There were glimmers of hope. Although Britain 'stood alone' (with help from its colonies, of course) the Lend-Lease agreement signed by President Roosevelt of the USA ensured that adequate supplies of matériel would be dispatched for the use of the British military, although attacks by the Kriegsmarine's U-Boats on British cargo ships crossing the Atlantic sent many thousands of tons of supplies to the bottom of the ocean. Isolationist sentiment in America thwarted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's efforts to bring America into the fighting war.
Prior to the Luftwaffe's blitz on London and the devastating attack on the city of Coventry, Bomber Command's targets in Germany and the Occupied Territories were primarily of military significance. After these attacks senior RAF officers, with the approval of Churchill's War Cabinet, launched the new policy of designating certain German cities as legitimate targets for Britain's bomber force. This tactic later expanded into the (subsequently controversial) strategy of Area Bombing.
During the first two years of the war the effectiveness of Bomber Command's attacks was not spectacular. With the primitive navigational techniques available even locating the target was not guaranteed and a large percentage of the bombs released hit the ground many hundreds of yards - or even miles - away from the intended objectives.
Not surprisingly, the erratic performance of the bomber crews receives scant attention in this book and the results of successful raids are described with greater fulsomeness than is perhaps warranted. What is more surprising, however, is the candid description of losses of aircraft and crews, a foretaste of the dreadful cost that will be incurred by Bomber Command crews later in the war. Since the book was available to the public, one is left to speculate on what conclusions the enemy would derive from the information therein were it to fall into German hands.
At the time the book was published the later heavy bomber types included the four-engined Stirling and - from America - the Boeing B17 Fortress. Also mentioned is the Avro Manchester, initially powered by two Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. The engines' poor performance and reliability forced the designers to rethink the project. The two Vultures were removed and replaced with four Rolls-Royce Merlins, the same reliable engine which powered Hurricanes and Spitfires. The new version was renamed 'Lancaster' and by the end of the war more than 7000 examples of this hugely successful design had been built.
The quality of the photos in the book is generally poor, perhaps because the exigencies of war demanded reduced allocation of time and resources in the production of non-essential publications. Modern computer software has been able to counter some of the shortcomings in the quality of the images.
|II||-||Captains and Crews|
|III||-||First Blood : Attacks on the German Fleet|
|IV||-||White Bombs : The Leaflet. Raids|
|V||-||Campaign Against Odds : Norway|
|VI||-||Western Front : The Battle of Flanders|
|VII||-||Long Distance Attack : Italy|
|VIII||-||Mining the Enemy's Coast|
Armada Never Sailed
||Day Offensive in the North Sea|
|XI||-||The Battle of the Atlantic|
|XII||-||The Mind that Plans : Operations Control|
|XIII||-||The Crew that Strikes : Night Raid|
|XIV||-||The Attack on Nazi Industry|
|XV||-||The Damage in Germany|
|XVI||-||One Thing is Certain|
|I||-||The North Sea Areas|
|II||-||The Campaign in Flanders|
|III||-||The Enemy's Atlantic Bases|
|IV||-||The Raids on Germany|
The message arrived. It was from the British Ambassador to the German Reich and its purport was that there was no message. Hitler had not replied to the ultimatum of the British Government. While they were talking of this, the Secretary to the Cabinet entered. "Gentlemen," he said, "we are at war with Germany. The Prime Minister directs that the 'War Telegram' be despatched immediately." The hour was a few minutes after eleven. In the streets outside men and women watched the barrage balloons rise to operational height. At 11.15, the Prime Minister began to speak to this country and to the world. While he was still at the microphone the War Telegram went out to all those in authority appointed to receive it. Relayed through Group Headquarters, it reached the Commander of the Royal Air Force Station at Wyton. Upon the aerodrome, waiting to take off, was a Blenheim of Bomber Command. Three men were standing by - the pilot, the observer who was a naval officer, and an air gunner. They had been waiting since the 1st September, the day on which the Germans launched their attack on Poland. A minute after noon, about half an hour after the War Telegram had been received, the Blenheim was airborne. Some two hours later its crew were busy photographing units of the German Fleet, then on its way out of Wilhelmshaven. The Blenheim was flying at 24,000 feet. At that height in the conditions of weather then prevailing the wireless set froze, so that it was not until 4.50 in the afternoon, when the aircraft returned, that Bomber Command and the Admiralty became aware of the position of the war's first target. That evening an entry appeared in the log-book of the squadron: "Duty successful. 75 photos taken of German Fleet. The first R.A.F. aircraft to cross the German frontier."
On the next day as the result of a second reconnaissance the German cruiser "Leipzig" was discovered near the entrance to Wilhelmshaven, four destroyers in the Jade Bay and two warships at Brunsbüttel at the western end of the Kiel Canal. Twenty-nine Blenheims and Wellingtons took off in the afternoon to attack these units of the German Fleet. The weather was very bad. There was heavy rain and low cloud over all that part of the coasts of Germany. Though many of our aircraft went astray, one reached Brunsbüttel and bombed a warship with no observed result. Five Blenheims reached the Schillig Roads. They were carrying 500-lb. bombs, fused for a delay of eleven seconds. Up the Roads they flew in open formation some 500 feet above the sea. Two of them in the rear lost touch, but the other three held on and presently sighted, between rain squalls, a German battleship, the "Von Scheer." She was to port of them. No. 2 of the squadron, flying to starboard and abreast of his leader, pulled up over him, turning very sharply. This manoeuvre put him in a position to attack first. He did so, but his first bomb missed the ship by ten yards and his second failed to leave the aircraft.
Meanwhile his leader was coming in to the attack. To deliver it he descended almost to the surface of the water. A tender alongside the stern of the warship provided momentary cover. The leader skimmed over this and pulled up just high enough to clear the mast of the "Von Scheer." His observer saw men leaning against the rails of the ship and a line of washing hanging out to dry. Then the bombs fell and pieces from the catapult gear, used to launch the ship's aircraft, flew into the air. The third Blenheim attacked a second later, but its crew were uncertain whether they had scored hits. The attack was a complete surprise. One moment the German crew were taking their ease on deck, the next they were doubling to their action stations as the British bombers climbed up and away into the thick air, bullets flashing past their wings "like small blue electric sparks."
These Blenheims were followed by five more, who attacked from a very low level. Only one returned. The exact fate of the others is not known, but months later a German, talking of this raid to a friend in a compartment of a train crossing Northern Italy, remarked upon the reckless gallantry of their crews. It appeared that the crew of at least one Blenheim attacked the enemy so closely that the blast of their bombs when they exploded on the warship destroyed their aircraft. Our total losses were two Wellingtons and five Blenheims.
With this attack the war began. In skill, resource and resolution, it was typical of all which were to follow, and showed clearly to those in command of the Royal Air Force - though they had never doubted that it was so - that the men whose fathers had fought the Germans in the last war were in every way worthy of their begetters.
bomber pilot differs in training and environment from his colleague
ﬂying a Spitﬁre or a Hurricane. A pilot of the Royal Air Force is
subjected at an early stage to a process of selection by which it is
determined whether he is better ﬁtted to ﬂy a ﬁghter or a bomber. Both
will have to ﬂy aircraft; both will wear pilot's wings; both will be
controlled, to a certain extent, by wireless from the ground or from
their leader; but here their ways diverge. The ﬁghter pilot is in
action for an hour and a half to two hours at most, often far less. He
is usually led into the ﬁght by his squadron leader. Once battle is
joined it is every man for himself.
The Bomber Pilot
Very different, but equally important, qualities are required of a bomber pilot. He must be capable of considerable physical and mental endurance, for it may be necessary for him to remain nine, ten, eleven, or even twelve hours in the air, and to ﬂy for the most part of that time over hostile territory or across the unfriendly sea. During much of the ﬂight he may ﬁnd his aircraft the object of an attack by enemy ﬁghters far faster and more heavily armed. By reason of their greater speed his assailants can break off and renew their assault at any moment. Surprise, that weapon which more than any other wins a ﬁght, is theirs to wield at will. The bomber pilot must ﬂy doggedly on, defending himself with the aid of darkness and cloud outside and with the skill of his crew and their machine guns inside. The bomber pilot must not forget that he is one of a team and that that team is not ﬂying separated from him in another Hurricane or Spitfire, but in the same aircraft, crouched over the navigator's table or hunched up in the gun turrets. He must be imaginative, yet not be dismayed by his own imagination, brave yet cautious, cool yet daring.
When they are not required to take part in the night's operations they occupy themselves during the day with training, with the care of their equipment and guns, with the testing of their aircraft and with station duties. After a sortie they pass their time in various ways. Much of it is spent in sleep either in their own quarters in the station itself or in dormitories ﬁtted up elsewhere, the object being to secure for them as large a measure of quiet as possible. In some places they are to be found in small modern houses, each of which holds all or part of a crew; in others ﬁfty or sixty men may sleep in the panelled rooms of a manor house already old when Hampden deﬁed King Charles, Marlborough won Blenheim and Wellington cast down the French.
In their waking hours they play games, read, occupy their leisure in whatever way best pleases them. Two things are noticeable. There is no tabu on talking "shop" in the Mess and the wireless is rarely silent. Is this, perhaps, because the noise of engines is so much a part of their lives that silence seems an unnatural void? They are of necessity subjected to strain. It is the inevitable accompaniment of their calling. They are men, for the most part, in the prime of youth. For them the shape of life and death are very real. Yet any place more free from an atmosphere of strain than a bomber station would be hard to ﬁnd. In writing of it, comparisons are more than usually odious, but perhaps it may be likened to that found in an inn frequented by mountaineers. Roped together, these go out to the assault of high and difficult peaks. Each man’s life may depend, at any moment, on the skill and courage of his comrades tied to the same cord. The hours they spend overcoming the obstacles of nature to reach the ultimate point of naked or snow-bound rock which marks the summit, breed in them a spirit of fellowship denied to other men. It is this spirit, reﬁned and made keener by the ﬁre of war and by the sense of what is at stake, that informs the men of Bomber Command.
The navigator has certain aids to help him in his calculations and enable him to check his position. These are: radio position finding, usually known as "radio ﬁx," map reading and astronomical navigation. The first is limited by distance; the second is useless unless landmarks can be seen; the third can be used only when the stars are visible. The skilful navigator makes judicious use of all three. He is usually working in conditions opposed to accurate calculations, for he carries out his duties in a cramped space, wearing bulky clothes and an oxygen mask. Yet the proportion of bombers that reach their objectives, always very high, is growing higher. The target is hit again and again. Nearly two years of ﬂying under war conditions have taught invaluable lessons the results of which are each night becoming more apparent. "The wind and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigator" runs a quotation from Gibbon upon the wall of the brieﬁng-room of one bomber squadron. In the past many of the greatest sea navigators were British. To-day our air navigators are showing themselves to be worthy of their forbears.
wind has little effect
on the ﬂight of the bomb once it
has left the aircraft, but an important inﬂuence which affects bombing
is the strength and direction of the wind in which the aircraft itself
is ﬂying. This must be exactly calculated and set on the bomb-sight. To
attack a small target, for example a narrow bridge, the bomb-aimer will
release a "stick" of bombs, that is, a number in succession designed to
straddle the target. The chances that one of the bombs will hit it are
thereby increased. Up to a point, the greater the height from which it
is released, the greater are the striking velocity and penetrating
power of a bomb. The importance of this factor will be seen during the
course of this narrative in relation to our attacks on enemy shipping.
Armour-piercing bombs aimed, for example, at the "Scharnhorst,"
"Gneisenau" or "Prinz Eugen," have to be dropped from a considerable
height if they are to go through their protected decks.
Ice, Fog, Storms, Fire
It has already been said that one of the main obstacles besetting a navigator in the fulﬁlment of his task is the weather. Apart from violent changes in the speed and force of air currents, electrical storms, fog and the formation of ice on an aircraft in ﬂight are formidable adversaries. Electrical storms may cause the aircraft to become in effect an electrical conductor. This means a danger of ﬁre in those parts of it through which the electrical discharge cannot easily pass. Apart from the risk of ﬁre, the navigational instruments, particularly the compass, may become unserviceable. In a storm this can be very serious; for if the pilot cannot see the land he is completely dependent on such artiﬁcial aids to navigation.
Ice may be formed on an aircraft when ﬂying through certain types of cloud, particularly cumulus. Condensation will occur on the wings and a sudden drop in temperature causes the water thus formed to freeze. Ice on the wings may deprive them of their lift. Ice in the carburettor of the engine may choke out its life.
All these aircraft, with the exception of the Wellington, and, in one small respect, the Whitley, are built of metal, with stressed metal coverings. All, with the exception of the Battle, are multi-engined, mid-winged monoplanes, the single wing being placed so that half the depth of the fuselage is above the wing and half below it. The Fortress is a multi-engined low-wing monoplane. The Whitley differs in construction from the others only in the after-part of the wings, which is fabric covered. The Wellington is entirely fabric covered and is remarkable for its geodetic construction. The surface of the aircraft is made up of panels consisting of a diagonal criss-cross metal framework, like a trellis or a large-meshed net, on which the fabric covering is stretched.
A bomber will carry no more fuel than is needed to take it to the target and back, with the necessary margin for safety. The fuel and bomb loads, therefore, vary with the range of the target chosen. At the beginning of the war Bomber Command had at its disposal two main classes of bombers - the medium type, represented by the Battles and Blenheims, capable of carrying loads of between 1,000 and 1,500 lb. for a circuit of action of 1,000 miles at a long-range cruising speed, and a heavier bomber carrying either several times the bomb load for the same distance or a smaller load for a longer distance. ln the latter class were the Wellingtons, the Whitleys and the Hampdens. Thus, from the outset of hostilities, many of the aircraft of the Bomber Command were able to ﬂy with substantial loads to points as far as 800 miles from their bases and return - a total distance of 1,600 miles. From our bomber aerodromes in East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire the approximate distance to Berlin and back is 1,100 miles; to Hamburg or Mannheim and back is 900 miles; to Hamm and back is 800 miles; to the Ruhr or Cologne and back is 700 miles. There were more distant objectives. To Warsaw and back is approximately 1,600 miles; to Danzig or Vienna and back is 1,400 miles; to Prague and back is 1,200 miles. By refuelling at bases in France near Rheims the return journeys to Warsaw and Vienna, for example, were reduced to 1,300 and 900 miles respectively.
"The greatest care is to be taken not to injure the civilian population. The intention is to destroy the German Fleet. There is no alternative target."
In the absence of land operations no bombs were in fact dropped on German soil until the night of 19th/20th March, 1940, when the enemy seaplane base on the Island of Sylt was ﬁrst attacked. This in itself was a purely military objective and, if the German News Agency reports are to be believed, there were no civilians on the island. They had all been evacuated. The attack took place after the German bombing of the Orkney Islands on 16th March, when the ﬁrst British civilian casualties caused by bombing occurred. Not only did Bomber Command avoid targets on land; it had also been ordered not to drop bombs on any ship lying alongside or close to a quay, and it did not do so. For some six months, therefore, only enemy ships of war at sea or lying in wide roadsteads were attacked.
The story of those months is largely one of contention with the weather. This grew steadily worse as winter set in, and attacks in force became very nearly impossible. Nevertheless units of the German Navy were attacked; these included a number of capital ships, two submarines seen on the surface and three enemy destroyers.
The attack on Brunsbüttel and the Schillig Roads took place on the day after war was declared and was followed by some days of reconnaissance carried out by Blenheims: one of their objects was to ﬁnd out the truth concerning a reported concentration of enemy bombers on the German island of Sylt. There proved to be no such concentration. The photographic reconnaissance ﬂights by these aircraft, soon known as cloud-flying Blenheims, were extended ﬁrst to the Heligoland Bight and then to North-Western Germany. These constant sorties resulted in fairly severe casualties. The pilots and navigators making them had yet to acquire experience of ﬂying long distances over the sea. They learnt it as they ﬂew. The crews became accustomed to ﬁnding their way in all kinds of weather with no landmarks to guide them. The photographs they brought back with them enabled a very complete and accurate picture to be built up of the naval bases, factories, roads, railways, key points and other places of military importance in North-Western Germany. Blenheims from the Advanced Air Striking Force in France also took part in these operations. The aircraft engaged on them flew at very different heights, sometimes as high as 24,000 feet, sometimes as low as one hundred. This arduous work went on throughout the winter. It is impossible to mention every flight. All were much the same - long, dangerous, and carried out with great perseverance and tenacity.
During the ﬁrst weeks of the war it was rarely possible to act on the information obtained by air reconnaissance, for the ships of the enemy remained too close to their bases. They cruised about at night, returning in the morning and remaining in port every week-end. It was therefore decided that Bomber Command should undertake reconnaissance in strength, using aircraft equipped with bombs and ready to attack. In pursuance of this policy, a squadron of Hampdens patrolling the Heligoland Bight on 29th September, in two formations of six and ﬁve, found and attacked two enemy destroyers. Owing to what appears to have been an error in timing, the two formations became separated, and when the second reached the area the enemy had been roused to action. The ﬁve aircraft composing this formation were intercepted. None of them returned, and the Germans claim to have shot them all down with the loss of two of their own ﬁghters. The other formation, attacking the destroyers from 300 feet, was met with heavy pom-pom ﬁre, and a well-aimed shell went through the nose of the leading aircraft of the ﬁrst ﬂight. It struck the pilot on the elbow causing him involuntarily to pull back the stick and swoop sharply upwards. The other two aircraft close behind followed their leader. All the bombs fell into the sea wide of their mark. The experience gained from this raid and that of 4th September appeared to show that a level attack on heavily-armed naval vessels from such a low height was likely to prove a costly undertaking. Moreover, the penetrating power of the bombs dropped is uncertain, and the risk that they may bounce off the decks or turrets very real.
At intervals throughout the autumn months the German warships made a number of sorties into the Atlantic, and on 23rd of November, during a sweep off Iceland, one of them, the "Deutschland," sank the armed cruiser H.M.S. "Rawalpindi." A striking force of bombers stood by at Scottish bases from 24th November to 2nd December in the vain hope that the weather would allow them to attack her.
So much for attacks at sea. When enemy vessels were close to their bases the problem became more complicated. At a well-defended base such as Wilhelmshaven, German ﬁghters, it was observed, took the air within ten minutes of the sighting of the objective by our bombers. They were able to do so because of the warning they received from a line of "flak" ships some seventy miles west of Heligoland. It was, indeed, obvious that strong defence forces were stationed in all these German North Sea bases. The Bight soon came to be known as "The Hornets' Nest." Was it possible to attack warships when they were close to such defences? It should be remembered that at this stage British policy was to give the bombers means of self-protection and to rely on this and on the collective ﬁre of a bomber formation to beat off ﬁghter attack. Our bomber force had been primarily designed and intended for use as a day force for attacks on land targets. Certain considerations had caused it to be used only against ships which had not as yet been heavily defended by ﬁghter aircraft. If the enemy's ships were to be attacked suddenly without previous reconnaissance so as to ensure surprise, was there not a reasonable chance that damage would be inﬂicted despite the presence of ﬁghters? It was decided to try. Wellingtons were deemed the most suitable aircraft for the purpose.
Owing, mainly, to poor visibility, it was not until 3rd December that twenty-four Wellingtons were at last able to discover a number of German warships off Heligoland. They attacked at heights varying between seven and ten thousand feet, using for the most part armour-piercing bombs. A stick of three scored hits on one of the larger ships, possibly the "Bremse" or the "Brummer," which was later seen down by the stern being towed to port. Photographs were taken, but cloud and the smoke from the explosions made accurate observation impossible. No damage was done by anti-aircraft ﬁre from the ships, and of the few enemy ﬁghters which appeared, only one pressed home its attack and this was quickly shot down.
The next opportunity came four days later, on 18th December, when a force of Wellingtons discovered a number of enemy naval units in Wilhelmshaven. Their adventures must be described in some detail, for several important lessons were learnt from this raid. The aircraft left in four formations with orders to bomb from a height not lower than 10,000 feet. The weather was bad to within ﬁfty miles of the English coast, but the clouds gradually decreased until the sky was clear over the German coast. The ﬁrst German ﬁghters attacked a few miles south of Heligoland, but broke off as soon as the Wellingtons ran into heavy anti-aircraft ﬁre in the neighbourhood of Bremerhaven. After that, very heavy ﬁghter attacks were made upon them in the Wilhelmshaven area and continued until they were seventy to eighty miles out to sea on the way home. The visibility was so good that it was easy to see that there were no warships at Brunsbüttel, in the Schillig Roads or in the Jade Bay. The formation kept well to the east of Wilhelmshaven, but no target could be found. A sweep was therefore made over the Jade basin and course was then set directly for Wilhelmshaven, which was approached from the south-east. Enemy warships were, however, so close in to shore, some of them being at the quayside, that they could not be attacked without the risk of causing casualties among the civil population. Four large vessels, however, in the Roads, which opened heavy anti-aircraft ﬁre, were attacked, without observed result.
Seeing no suitable targets, the leader of the formation turned north, past the Island of Wangerooge, at a height of 13,000 feet. No sooner had the heavy anti-aircraft ﬁre died away than attacks by enemy ﬁghters, which included Me.110's, ensued and were continued for about half an hour. The Wellingtons had, in fact, roused the hornets' nest and between forty and ﬁfty attacks were delivered from astern and beam. The Me.110's opened ﬁre with cannon at ranges of from 900 to 600 yards, and as a general rule pressed their attacks well home, coming on one occasion to within ﬁfty yards. The action soon became general, the Wellingtons defending themselves with skill and vigour. Six Me.109's and six Me.110's were seen to fall in ﬂames and six others probably suffered a similar fate. Four of the Wellingtons were reported to have been shot down, three made for Holland with petrol streaming from their tanks, and several others came down in the sea on the way home.
Further sweeps were carried out during the last days of that month and on a number of days in January and February, 1940. On 10th January a running fight between Blenheims and Me.110's took place a hundred miles off the German coast, with losses about equal on both sides. The weather grew more and more severe. On 11th February the Baltic was reported to be frozen from shore to shore. These conditions lasted more than a fortnight and reconnaissances were made at night to discover whether German warships were icebound in the neighbourhood of Heligoland. They were. On the night of 17th/18th a Whitley flying sometimes as low as 200 feet found four large warships two miles north-west of Heligoland and several cruisers and destroyers amounting to nine or ten ships four miles to the south-west. This was conﬁrmed by further reconnaissances two nights later. Eighteen Wellingtons attacked at ﬁve-minute intervals, but once again, though bombs were dropped on the warships, the weather was too bad to make the operation successful. Nature, which had provided us with sitting targets, thought better of it and prevented us from attacking them.
These patrols went on until the attack on Sylt. This was carried out on the night of 19th/20th March, 1940. Thirty Whitleys and twenty Hampdens took part and the raid lasted about six hours. It was in the nature of a retort to the German raid on Scapa Flow three nights before. The weather was, as usual, poor with much fog, but there was moonlight over the target. Navigation was good, all but five aircraft arriving over the target in the order in which they left the ground. The bombs were dropped from heights varying from 10,000 to 1,000 feet. They consisted of 40 five-hundred pounders, 84 two-hundred-and-fifty pounders and about 1,200 incendiaries. The weight of bombs dropped would now seem very small. The Press, however, described it as a heavy raid and having regard to our operational strength in bombers at that time, this statement was true. The raid was in the nature of an experiment. The material damage caused was probably not as great as was originally estimated, but the lessons learned from this first attack at night on a land target by our bomber force were of more importance than the number of seaplanes, hangars and slip-ways damaged or destroyed.IV - White Bombs:
The justification for such a policy was twofold. Apart from the value in themselves of the pamphlets which were dropped - the first was a statement by the late Mr. Chamberlain, Prime Minister as he then was, setting forth the reasons why the British and French Empires were at war with Germany - the value to the Royal Air Force was very great. In the first place information about all kinds of objectives which might at any moment become the object of attack was obtained; crews were able to become familiar with the whereabouts of aerodromes, factories, power stations, roads and railways in conditions very similar to those in which they were subsequently bombed. This information, combined with that obtained by the Advanced Air Striking Force in its reconnaissances over the western part of Germany, enabled a very complete picture to be built up for future use. Secondly, such raids proved of great importance in the training of air crews. They were carried out at night; they were carried out in all weathers; they lasted anything between six and twelve hours. As tests for navigation and endurance they had no equal.
Our bombers were not equipped for their
and they had to be dropped by hand through the ﬂare-chute which was
specially adapted for the purpose. The leaflets are packed in bundles
secured by a piece of string which is cut before the bundle is pushed
overboard. Once it enters the slip stream, the leaflets are scattered
far and wide. On one occasion the dropper cut the string
binding the bundles, not just before their discharge but just after
they had been stowed in the aircraft. As it was taking off, a sudden
draught papered its entire interior with leaflets which completely
obscured the pilot's view. He had to make a blind take-off using only
Bundles for Germany
The story of the early raids is soon told. The seven raids which took place in the first week of the war were followed by seven more during the month of September. The areas covered were the Ruhr and North-Western Germany. On the night of 1st/2nd October the first leaflet raid on Berlin took place. It was on that occasion that pamphlets were dropped giving the amount of the personal fortunes hidden away abroad by the Nazi leaders. Weather conditions that night were particularly severe. One aircraft arrived over the German capital at 22,500 feet. The oxygen supply momentarily failed; two of the crew collapsed and part of the mechanism of the rear turret froze so that the air gunner could not open his door. The pilot carried on and the navigator went back to assist the two unconscious members of the crew. He dragged one twelve feet along the fuselage into the cabin and connected him with the oxygen supply. He then threw overboard two-thirds of the leaflets before collapsing in his turn. The pilot brought the aircraft down to 9,000 feet, and at this height it became possible to open the door of the rear turret. The air gunner climbed through to the assistance of the navigator, who, however, had already recovered and returned to duty. It may be noted that all the aircraft engaged in this operation left at three-minute intervals and returned at the same intervals, a remarkable feat of navigation and timing.
Besides this raid on Berlin leaflets were dropped on eight more occasions in the month of October by aircraft operating mostly from the French aerodrome of Villeneuve. The night of 27th/28th October, 1939, is noteworthy because of the appalling weather conditions encountered. These were such that "it caused much amazement" - so the official report runs - "when it was realised that aircraft in such a condition of 'icing-up' could still be controlled."
The adventures of the Whitley crews, all of whom succeeded in dropping their load of pamphlets in the Düsseldorf-Frankfurt area, were numerous. One difficulty was common to them all. It was almost impossible to lower the turret from which the pamphlets were discharged owing to the intense cold. The temperature varied between minus 22 and minus 32° centigrade. In one aircraft the starboard engine had to be switched off because it had caught ﬁre. At that time the aircraft was in thick cloud, and ice about 6 inches thick formed on its wings. It went into a dive and "recovery was made at 7,000 feet, the full strength of both pilots being required to pull the aircraft out of the dive. It was then found that the rudder and elevators were immovable. The wireless operator sent a signal to say one engine was on ﬁre and tried to get an immediate 'ﬁx' but had no means of knowing if he was transmitting as the instrument glasses were thick with ice.
"It was then found that the starboard engine was on ﬁre which was increasing in severity. We climbed out and attempted to put out the flames, but were unsuccessful. The captain returned to the fuselage to get the extinguisher but found it had already discharged in the crash. On seeing the ﬁre the wireless operator obtained the extinguisher from his cabin, climbed on to the engine cowling and extinguished the flames. We then ascertained that all members of the crew were safe and unhurt." They were subsequently succoured by the local inhabitants, who were fortunately French, though not until they had spent the night in the crashed Whitley.
Whitley a defect in the oxygen apparatus caused a shortage of supply.
The crew, however, succeeded in dropping their pamphlets, but
"such was the condition
of the navigator and wireless operator at
this stage, that every few minutes they were compelled to lie
down and rest on the floor of the fuselage. The cockpit heating system
was useless. Everyone was frozen, and had no means of alleviating their
distress. The navigator and Commanding Officer were butting their heads
on the floor and navigation table in an endeavour to experience some
other form of pain as a relief from the awful feeling of frost-bite and
lack of oxygen." On the way home they descended to 8,000
icing conditions grew worse. The windows became completely covered,
"and ice could be heard coming off the blades of the
and striking the sides of the nose. Continuous movement of the controls
was necessary to prevent them from freezing up."
aircraft landed safely.
"Successful Avoiding Action"
The remaining Whitley engaged in this operation also made a forced landing in France. The landing was particularly heavy and the tail gunner was much shaken. When after climbing out he went to the nose of the aircraft to have a word with the pilot, he discovered that he was alone, the others having on the orders of the captain baled out. Owing to a breakdown in the intercommunication system the tail gunner had not received this order. The aircraft had made a landing by itself with no one at the controls. The tail gunner went off to a near-by village: here he found the rest of the crew safe in a café, where they exchanged experiences. The front gunner had been knocked unconscious by his parachute which, when opening, hit him on the head. He regained consciousness lying on his back in a field among a herd of curious but friendly cows. The wireless operator was not so lucky. Landing in a field full of curious but hostile bulls, he took successful avoiding action by sprinting for the hedge in full flying kit and cleared a four-foot hurdle. The captain landed softly and was unhurt, and the navigator sprained an ankle. It is pleasant to record that the whole crew after their re-union in the café were taken, "complete with bouquets," to a French hospital, whence, after treatment, they returned the same day to their Unit.
In January, 1940, the raids which took place between 7th and 14th were of importance, for they afforded an opportunity of reconnoitring the area along the Dutch and Belgian frontiers. On the night of 12th/13th the first leaflet raid on Prague and Vienna was made. This was a long flight which took units of the Royal Air Force into the heart of the enemy's territory. The aircraft, three of them, took off shortly before five in the afternoon. They crossed the German frontier near Karlsruhe at 14,000 feet, and their next main landmark was Munich, which was clearly visible. The Bavarian Alps were then crossed, "their snow-clad peaks showing up magnificently in the starry night." On reaching Vienna pamphlets were dropped and "after circling the city, which was a mass of twinkling lights reflected from the black waters of the Danube," the aircraft set a course for their base, which was reached safely in the early hours of the morning of the 13th. The average temperature throughout the flight was minus 20° centigrade.
Owing to very bad weather the raids were only on a small scale in January and up to 25th February. On that date and for five successive nights leaflets were dropped in the Berlin area and in the Hamburg, Bremen, Kiel, Lübeck, Cologne and Rhineland areas. On 5th, 6th and 7th March leaflet raids were pushed as far as the Posen area, and on 9th to Czechoslovakia. A leaflet raid on 7th March over the Rhine and the Ruhr was of particular value. The glow of the blast-furnaces was easily seen and their whereabouts were noted.
On the night of 15th/16th March came the longest raid of all. Two Whitleys went to Warsaw and dropped between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 leaflets. On the return journey one aircraft landed in France, the other behind the lines in Germany. The crew, thinking that they were safely over the border in friendly territory, left the Whitley, the pilot having locked the controls. It was then near dawn. Peasants, when asked at what place the aircraft had landed, greeted the crew with laughter when they discovered that the British airmen imagined that they were in France. By gestures the peasants explained that France was a short distance away across the wooded hills. The atmosphere continued to be cordial, but a number of soldiers presently appeared on bicycles. Maintaining their friendly attitude towards the peasants the crew of the Whitley gradually edged away and then made a bolt for it. The soldiers opened rifle ﬁre upon them, but they reached their aircraft in safety, took off, and on the few gallons of petrol remaining succeeded in reaching France.
In these early raids opposition was on the whole slight. Anti-aircraft ﬁre was seldom encountered, but a certain number of German night fighters sought to intercept our bombers. They were sometimes successful, but such casualties as were suffered were due mostly to the very bad weather conditions in which many of the flights were made. On one occasion an Me.109 attacked a Whitley and closed to within 500 yards. The rear gunner duly reported the presence of the enemy aircraft just as the captain had given orders for the leaflets to be dropped. He told the rear gunner to hold his ﬁre while the navigator and wireless operator continued to throw them out. The rear gunner presently reported that it would not be necessary for him to take any action since the Me.109 had ﬂown into the cloud of released leaflets and dived away discomﬁted. Leaflet raids continued on a fairly wide scale up to the beginning of the attack on Norway. They are still carried out, but now the load of the aircraft also includes bombs.
On 7th April, the importance of speed in the transmission of messages was well illustrated. Twelve Blenheims in two formations of six saw an enemy cruiser and four destroyers at sea. They followed them and four minutes later caught sight of most of the German Fleet, which was then some seventy-six miles N.N.W. of the Horn's Reef. The Blenheims wheeled into the sun and attacked either the "Scharnhorst" or the "Gneisenau." The leader sent out a message giving the position and course of the German Fleet. This information never got through and only became known some hours later when the aircraft returned. "The German Fleet was a very grand sight," said the leader of the Blenheims. "When they shot at me it was like lightning flashing in daylight all about me."
Wellingtons sought in vain to find the
German ships that same
afternoon, and another force detailed for the same task the next day
were weather-bound; but on 9th April twelve Wellingtons and twelve
Hampdens went out to attack the enemy naval forces now in Bergen. They
arrived at dusk and dropped their bombs with some effect, for they
obtained two direct hits on a cruiser. This was subsequently sunk in a
very gallant attack made the next day by sixteen Skuas of the Fleet Air
Not a Base, Not a Chance
By now the Luftwaffe had arrived in force in Norway. They concentrated on the aerodrome and seaplane anchorage at Stavanger, the aerodrome at Vaernes, near Trondheim and also on Fornebu, the airport of Oslo. The first landings of air-borne troops on that aerodrome were made regardless of cost in lives and aircraft; and the manoeuvre succeeded. In order to maintain the rate of landings, the Germans by 15th April were using passenger aircraft taken from their Continental passenger services. Together with the German ships at Bergen, Kristiansand, Trondheim and elsewhere the newly-occupied aerodromes formed the most obvious targets for Bomber Command.
Lack of cloud cover on 11th April prevented a force of Hampdens from attacking warships in Kristiansand South; but that night more than forty of our heavy bombers attacked German shipping en route from Kiel to Oslo. Heavy darkness hampered the operation. One ship, however, was seen to explode with great violence. On 12th April a great effort was made to bomb some of the main units of the German Fleet. These included the "Scharnhorst," the "Gneisenau" and a cruiser of the "Nürnberg" class which had been discovered heading south across the entrance to the Skagerrak. Ninety-two heavy bombers swept a wide area in search of these vessels. There was fog about and they were not seen, but two warships in Kristiansand South were bombed. The Wellingtons and Hampdens detailed for the operation presently found themselves heavily engaged by a swarm of Me.109's and 110's, which pursued them 200 miles out to sea. In this running fight ten of our aircraft were lost. Two Me.110's were seen to be shot down; but the Germans admitted the destruction of five Me.109's. Our losses were probably greater in numbers and certainly in trained airmen than were theirs.
The concentration of our attacks soon came to be upon Stavanger. It was, from the start, the main German air base in Norway from which their attacks on our shipping soon developed. We attacked it first towards dusk on 11th April. Two Blenheim fighters sprayed the aerodrome with machine-gun fire. They were followed by six Wellingtons which delivered a low-level attack, starting a large fire. As the campaign went on it became increasingly clear that the only really effective action which the Royal Air Force could take against the enemy was to attack Stavanger repeatedly in the hope that its continued use might be curtailed. A glance at the map will show how difficult it was to do more.
In Norway, as in Greece and
later on in Crete, the advantage lay all with the enemy. He had
obtained the aerodromes of Denmark without resistance. He had secured
those of Norway with scarcely greater difficulty, for his attack had
been as swift as it had been treacherous and the Norwegian resistance
was paralysed from the outset. Once established, it was impossible to
dislodge him. Aerodromes such as Fornebu, near Oslo, were outside the
range of all but our long-distance bombers, the Whitleys, which could
not operate in daylight without running the almost certain risk of
being shot down.
"Where is the --- place?"
There have been many references to the weather in this account. Through all the early months of the war and especially during the Norwegian campaign it remained a factor of cardinal importance, and it must not be forgotten that in April it is still winter in Norway. To illustrate the appalling weather met with, here is an account by the pilot of a Blenheim, one of those which attacked Stavanger on 16th April.
"Soon after leaving the English coast," he said, "we ran into rain which was literally tropical in its fury. After some time we climbed and then the rain turned to snow. At 13,000 feet the engines of two of the Blenheims became iced up and stopped. One of the aircraft dropped more or less out of control until only 600 feet above the sea, when they started again. The other Blenheirn was even luckier. It actually struck the waves at the very moment its engines came to life. It lost its rear wheel, but both aircraft got safely back to base." In such conditions it is not surprising that only one of that formation of Blenheims reached Stavanger. It was flying very low and a brisk argument was in progress between the pilot and the observer as to their whereabouts. "Call yourself an observer," said the pilot. "Where is the --- place?" At that moment a piece of anti-aircraft shell removed half the cowling of his cockpit. They knew they had arrived.
Stavanger was bombed sixteen times by aircraft of Bomber Command between 11th and 24th April. It was also heavily shelled by H.M.S. "Suffolk" at dawn on the 17th besides being repeatedly attacked by aircraft of Coastal Command and by the Fleet Air Arm. The damage done was considerable, especially on the 15th. The best attack from a tactical point of view was probably that carried out by twelve Blenheims on the 17th. They flew in two formations at different heights. The high-flying formation dropped their bombs ten seconds before those flying at a lower level went in to the attack. By keeping formation they drove off repeated attacks by enemy fighters, though two, which became stragglers, were cut off and shot down. Many other attacks on Stavanger were made during the rest of April and the first week of May. That on the night of 2nd/3rd May was probably the most successful.
At dusk on 16th April, the Commanding Officer of one of our bomber squadrons took off from his base in Yorkshire as captain of a Whitley. Amongst the members of his crew, his navigator and second pilot were new to the work - the former making his first war flight. Clouds were low at the start, but the pilot climbed to 11,000 feet into a moderately clear layer between upper and lower cloud masses. Setting a course for the southern promontory of Norway to establish a landfall, and flying by dead reckoning, they made the sea crossing at 10,000 feet. Owing to cloud the coast-line was missed and the first sight the pilot had of land was when, shortly after 11 p.m., a snow-covered hill appeared in the bright moonlight through a gap in the clouds. Recognising the rolling nature of the country, the pilot ﬁxed his position and set a course to cut the south-east coast of Norway in order to make a landfall. Once again the coast was missed. Half an hour later, driving through a gap at 3,000 feet, a flat black surface was seen. The pilot could not determine whether it was land or water. He therefore switched on his landing light and ﬂew down its beam until the reﬂection revealed the sea. Course was altered to port until the coast-line was picked up at 2,000 feet and identiﬁed by the foam of breakers.
At the head of the Oslo Fjord a severe
encountered. The aerodrome at Fornebu and the surrounding country were
completely obscured. Several attempts were made to penetrate the gloom,
the aircraft coming down to a height of 500 feet where it at
met with severe icing conditions. The pilot therefore flew back over
enemy shipping in Drammen in the hope that the snowstorm would abate.
In this he was disappointed; although Oslo was bathed in bright
sunlight the area of the landing ground was still not visible. It might
have been possible to judge the position of the target in relation to
the town; but rather than risk the destruction of non-military
objectives the pilot set a course for England, his bombs still on
board. He landed safely at his base shortly after 4.30 in the morning,
after being in the air for nine and a half hours. No wireless "ﬁxes"
were asked for or received throughout the ﬂight.
In addition to bombing attacks, reconnaissance flights by all classes of bomber aircraft were made throughout the active period of the Norwegian campaign. The whereabouts of German shipping off the coasts of Germany, in the Belt, in Oslo Fjord and in the numerous fjords on the west coast of Norway were plotted, and much valuable information made available for the Royal Navy.
Through this period of just one month, Bomber Command was hard-worked, four squadron sorties in six days being nothing unusual. The losses were some thirty bombers.
More might, perhaps, have been accomplished, but the task was from the outset of the most formidable kind. There was no more than a small force of bombers available, and it had to operate at extreme range in thick weather, without ﬁghter support and with information always inadequate and sometimes altogether lacking. Bomber Command did its utmost. All ﬂights were carried out in the spirit of the crew of the Wellington who ﬂew, at 300 feet through ﬁerce snowstorms, from the north to the south of Norway and back to Scotland in fourteen and a half hours. The spirit of our pilots and crews was, indeed, as high at the end of those thirty days as it had been at the beginning.
Though they did not know it at the time, for most of them the campaign was a dress rehearsal for what they were about to be called upon to do over Holland, Belgium and France.
They opened by a bombing attack on the Schipol aerodrome, the barracks at Amsterdam and the anti-aircraft defences nearby. This was soon followed by the descent of parachute troops on key points in and near The Hague, at Delft, Zandvoord, the Hook, Ymuiden, Eindhoven, Dordrecht and on the Waalhaven aerodrome near Rotterdam. They succeeded in capturing the aerodrome. By the afternoon of 10th May four major aerodromes in Fortress Holland, those at Waalhaven, Ypenburg, Ockenburg and Walkenburg were in German hands, despite the measures taken to deny their use to the invader. The Germans at once began to land troops in large numbers from troop-carrying aircraft. Two or three aerodromes were subsequently recaptured by the Dutch and held for a short period. German aircraft also landed in considerable numbers on the foreshore at Katwijk, Scheveningen and Wassenaar. The result of these air operations was to immobilise one Dutch army corps in Fortress Holland and to secure for the Germans control of the district of Dordrecht and the southern part of Rotterdam. The effect on the general campaign in Holland was decisive.
The Royal Air Force immediately gave all the aid it could to the hard-pressed Dutch. This record deals only with the part played in it by Bomber Command. Its aircraft were in action within a few hours, but their task was very heavy. The main armies of Belgium, Great Britain and France were hotly engaged with the German invading forces and needed all the help - and more - that it was possible to give. Nevertheless the Dutch were not left to ﬁght in the air unaided. On 10th May many bombing attacks were carried out on Dutch aerodromes in German hands and on the Dutch beaches, the most considerable being those on the Waalhaven and Ypenburg aerodromes, on a landing ground near Leyden and on the foreshore near The Hague. Considerable damage was done for the loss of four Blenheims. That night thirty-six Wellingtons burnt the hangars at Waalhaven and destroyed a large number of enemy aircraft on the ground, while a squadron of Whitleys bombed the approaches to Maastricht. A further attack was made on the same area on 11th May, and on 13th and 14th May the area round Breda was bombed by Battles from the Advanced Air Striking Force in France and by Blenheims from England. Great stocks of oil were set on ﬁre.
Meanwhile the battle was joined in Belgium and France. Before tracing the fortunes of our bomber forces during its progress, the use to which they were to be put must be considered. There are two direct ways in which a bombing force can aid an army on the defensive. It can interfere with the enemy's lines of communications by bombing railways, roads, points of assembly, "bottle-necks," dumps, etc., and it can also in certain circumstances give close support by bombing enemy troops engaged in close action. These possible uses for the British bombing force had been carefully considered and discussed with the French as far back as the spring of 1939, when the seizure by Hitler of Czechoslovakia had made the prospect of a German attack in the West almost inevitable.
At that time the French General Staff were informed without reserve what our strength in bombers was. Plans, based on that strength, were drawn up and accepted by both allies without reserve. The French General Staff made it clear at the outset that their main preoccupation was the invasion of their country. They viewed with the greatest misgiving any plan by which bombers were to be used for attacks on German industry and they did not hesitate to say so. In their considered opinion the main, indeed the only, use to which a bombing force should be put was to extend the range of artillery supporting armies in the ﬁeld. They therefore pressed from the start for the full co-operation of the whole British bomber force in resisting any German invasion of France. This was immediately promised. It was made clear that Great Britain would regard the defeat of the invasion of France as her primary task and that her bomber force would be used to the utmost to help in fulﬁlling it. At the same time the French General Staff were warned not to expect any very spectacular result from bomber support, since the enemy was superior in numbers and most of our bomber bases were separated by great distances from the area of the battleﬁeld.
Matters stood thus when war broke out. We immediately fulﬁlled our promises and despatched the Advanced Air Striking Force, consisting of most of our medium bomber squadrons then armed mainly with Battles, to the Rheims area. This force must not be confused with the Air Component, which consisted of a number of fighter, army co-operation and reconnaissance squadrons operating directly under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force. The area of Rheims was chosen for the Striking Force because the Battle possessed a comparatively short range and had, therefore, to be placed as close as possible to objectives in Germany. The Battles were also regarded as being the most suitable aircraft available for the direct support of the French army in the event of an invasion. They were put into use for reconnaissance purposes almost immediately. Very early in the war General Gamelin mounted a strictly limited offensive on the Saar front. He asked for the support of the Advanced Air Striking Force and this was at once given.
Here an immediate difficulty arose. For a bomber force to carry out its duties with the maximum of efficiency, an elaborate and detailed ground organisation for its direction and control is necessary. Such organisation did not exist in France and was only established by the British Air Staff after many technical difficulties had been overcome. One other point is of importance. The French said definitely that they could not undertake any day bombing by their own air force. Since they did not possess more than forty day bombers this attitude was not surprising. Their aircraft industry, which went into full production much later than our own, concentrated, naturally enough, on the building of fighter aircraft. Great Britain, faced with this deficiency in the French bombing forces, agreed at once and without hesitation to use the Advanced Air Striking Force to bomb the German armies if it became necessary to do so.
The operations of that force prior to 10th May, 1940, consisted entirely of reconnaissance duties. Flights were made by night and day over Germany, but the Battles did not penetrate more than twenty miles into enemy territory. The photographs they took enabled an accurate picture of the Siegfried Line to be built up. They bore their full share with the French Air Force in the limited offensive operations, already mentioned, undertaken against the Saar. It was during the course of these that on 30th September, 1939, four out of five Battles were shot down in a fight with fifteen Messerschmitts over Saarbrücken. Most of their crews escaped by parachute after having accounted for two of the enemy.
Matters continued thus until the German
France began. In the meantime, however, the attack on Norway had caused
the French High Command to raise once again the question of the use to
be made of our bombing force. On 14th April that Command was informed
that, subject to a minimum diversion to Norway, Denmark and Northern
Germany, it was intended, should the Germans attack, to use our full
offensive strength in the area of the enemy’s advance and in the
districts east of the Rhine through which his lines of communication
and supply would have to run. On the next day the Comité de Guerre
ruled that, because casualties might be caused to the civilian
population, bombing attacks on enemy concentrations in Germany were not
to be made unless the Germans launched them upon the Allies. This
decision at once limited the possible objectives to enemy columns on
the march. It was pointed out to General Gamelin that such targets were
quite unsuitable for our heavy bombers, since they had been designed
for an entirely different purpose. General Gamelin remained
unconvinced. The German attack opened in force on 10th May, 1940. The
Allied Commander-in-Chief still refused to allow objectives in Germany
or German troops on the move in their own country to be bombed. It was
not until the afternoon of the 10th that the Advanced Air Striking
Force bombed German columns advancing through Luxembourg and not until
the next day that attacks were made on enemy troops and lines of
communication by our medium and heavy bombing forces.
The task of the British bombers now that the battle was joined can be summed up in a sentence. It was to delay and weaken in every way possible the advance of the German mechanised forces and, after these had scored their initial successes, to try to relieve the pressure on the Allied armies sufficiently to enable them first to hold the enemy and then to mount an effective counter-attack. This delaying action by our bombers had been carefully planned. An analysis of German communications and possible lines of advance into Holland and Belgium had been made and the places where these would cross water or some other obstacle had been tabulated. Special maps had been prepared and issued to the British and French Air Forces. By a system of secret reference points they enabled the bombers of either force to be easily and rapidly directed by means of a signal to any area or objective at will.
The centre of gravity, the direction and the extent of the enemy’s advance were discovered by reconnaissance; and the information thus obtained, combined with the delay imposed on the enemy by all arms, of which the bombers may have been the most important, enabled the French armies to reach and establish themselves in their previously selected positions north of the River Meuse.
In fulfilment of the
general plan, the heavy bombers were used at night on the enemy's
communications and supply centres, while the Advanced Air Striking
Force operated in daylight until its casualties became too severe. Its
task was to carry out low-flying attacks against enemy columns, road
junctions and railways. It went into action immediately. While in the
Maastricht area the Blenheims made numerous attacks on the crossing
over the Meuse and on troops advancing along the road to Tongres, the
Battles bombed enemy columns, which were discovered on the move through
Luxembourg. The casualties they inﬂicted were heavy, but they lost
nearly half their number, mostly to anti-aircraft fire. They were to
lose many more by the action of enemy fighters. The heaviest casualties
were suffered on the 12th, 14th and 17th May.
Breaking the Bridges
To understand the operations of our bombing forces, it is necessary to refer from time to time to the progress and direction of the German thrusts on land. These were powerful and continuous. By mid-day on 10th May the Germans had held up the French attempt to advance in Southern Luxembourg and were pressing on into Belgium over undestroyed bridges near Maastricht. They had captured Fort Eben Emael by parachute troops and were thus threatening Liège. On the 11th they attacked the Albert Canal position in flank with mechanised divisions coming from Aix-la-Chapelle and in front with troops which crossed the northern part of Dutch Limburg and moved on Hasselt. Matters stood thus when on 12th May it was learned that two bridges across the Albert Canal to the west of Maastricht had not been destroyed and that the enemy was pouring across them. A squadron of Blenheims was detailed to bomb the crossings. They delivered their attack from 3,000 feet in the face of very heavy anti-aircraft fire. Their experienced leader afterwards described it as the heaviest he had not only encountered but imagined. On approaching the target the squadron broke formation in order to run in upon it from several directions. The bombs were falling when the leader spotted enemy fighters about to attack out of the sun. He immediately called on his squadron to regain formation, a manoeuvre of great difficulty and danger because of the heavy anti-aircraft fire. They did so at once and faced the fighters, which were driven off by their concentrated fire. Eight out of the twelve Blenheims, every one of them hit, returned, their task accomplished. The same objectives were also attacked on that day by six Battles. The crews which manned them were chosen by lot, since everyone had volunteered. They went in low, disregarding the enemy fighters above and the A.A. fire below. Five of the six were shot down. The sixth crashed on fire inside our lines, the pilot having instructed his crew to jump. One end of the bridge was demolished. Two Victoria Crosses were awarded to the crew of the leading Battle.
The Germans crossed the Meuse at two places, one of them near Sedan. At first it seemed possible to destroy the bridges they were using with a comparatively small force of aircraft. Six Battles made the first attack about 5 a.m. All returned, the pilot of one being wounded. Shortly after about 7.30 a.m., the attacks were renewed by four more Battles, and hits were claimed on a pontoon bridge near Sedan. All four got back safely. The situation, however, continued to deteriorate, and by 2 p.m. a much larger force was standing by to attack this and four other bridges between Mouzon and Sedan. Sixty-seven Battles started off soon after 3 p.m. Thirty-two returned. The rest had fallen victims to intense A.A. fire and to the German fighters, which were so numerous that they could not all be driven away. Two pontoon bridges were destroyed, another damaged, and two permanent bridges - one at Mouzon, the other at Sedan itself - received direct hits. During the days following, six crews of the Battles filtered back to their base. These included a pilot, wounded in two places, who yet succeeded in swimming the Meuse, and an observer and an air gunner who had tended their wounded pilot for more than twenty-four hours, only leaving him when he died. They also got across the Meuse to safety.
These and other attacks of a similar
kind showed that, when a
determined effort was made, it was possible to destroy a bridge though
casualties among the attacking aircraft would be heavy. The effect,
however, of such action against so well organised a foe as the German
Army was only temporary. To seize the opportunity created by the
destruction of a bridge called for strong and immediate action on the
part of the land forces in order to exploit and maintain the break.
Otherwise only a short respite was gained and the bravery displayed by
the bomber crews was rendered of little account. This was what happened
at Sedan. The bridges were broken; so were the French.
Bombing Troops and Transport
Once over the Meuse, the Germans hastened to exploit their success. By 16th May the forward elements of the British Army were back on the main position on the River Dyle with the Belgians on their left, the Germans were pouring through a wide gap on the right of the 1st French Army which lay on the British right and were attacking Avesnes and Vervins more than forty miles west of the Meuse. They had now reached open country, and new targets had therefore to be attacked by our bombers. These consisted of troop concentrations, armoured vehicles and convoys of transport, which soon came to be the only targets attacked in daylight. At night railway junctions, marshalling yards and oil dumps in Western Germany and overrun Belgium were bombed repeatedly; but the German advance continued. By 19th May the enemy had reached the Oise-Aisne Canal and the famous Chemin des Dames in the south, and to the north the line of the Scheldt held by the British Army, which had gone back to it from the Dyle. During the next three days the Germans pushed on, despite a British counter-attack near Arras on 21st May, and reached the sea at Le Touquet. Throughout these days the Advanced Air Striking Force attacked them repeatedly, inﬂicting heavy casualties on men and vehicles. The most successful of these operations were the bombing of tanks and motor transport near Berneuil and Puisieux on 22nd May, the attack on an enemy column blocked on the road between Abbeville and Hesdin on 25th May and the bombing and machine-gunning of another column on the Amiens-Doullens Road on 28th May.
Blenheims from England shared in these operations, working at high pressure and sustaining heavy losses. The most severe occurred on 17th May, when twelve of them were sent to attack tanks and troops near Gembloux. A few miles from the target the Blenheims, ﬂying in two formations of six, met intense and very accurate A.A. fire. This caused them to open out, and they were then attacked by Me.109's. These shot down ten of them, one more being destroyed by fire from the ground. Not all the crews were lost. Several were picked up wounded and two returned eventually to their base in England - one from Amiens in an Anson engaged on ferry work, the other from Paris in an aircraft belonging to the regular passenger service.
Two factors added to the difficulties met with by the Battles and Blenheims. Owing to lack of timely information, it was often impossible for them to be given exact targets, which meant that they had to find them for themselves. This increased the risk of casualties. There were also the civilian refugees. These streamed along, mingled with the enemy columns in unbelievable confusion. The orders were that they should not be bombed, and our pilots took great risks to avoid doing so. This living screen was of great assistance to the enemy, and he deliberately exploited it.
It is unnecessary to describe the
military operations in
further detail. By 29th May the Germans had penned the British Army in
the area round Dixmude and Armentières while Lille, the last French
stronghold in the north, fell on 31st May. The first phase of the
battle ended with the lifting of the British and much of the French
Northern Army from Dunkirk. The second opened on 5th June and endured
until the French sued for an armistice on the 17th.
An important part was played by our bombers, especially the Wellingtons, between 27th May and 4th June, while "Operation Dynamo," the code name given to the evacuation of Dunkirk, was proceeding. They laboured night after night to put down a curtain of bombs round that port, and their efforts were particularly vigorous towards the end, when the French Northern Army was being taken off. The Royal Navy were finding it very difficult to carry on in face of the enemy's heavy artillery bombardment and asked for bomber support. At short notice a considerable striking force was collected and despatched, which, according to the signal from the Admiral in charge of Operation Dynamo, carried out its work most efficiently and was a vital factor in the success achieved.
So heavy were the casualties suffered by the Advanced Air Striking Force in the early stages of the battle - they amounted to over forty per cent. - that after a few days it was decided to continue to use it in daylight only for those operations essential for providing immediate support to the armies. All other tasks were performed at night. The result was very materially to reduce the casualty rate, though the intensity of their effort remained almost the same. During the three weeks which followed the 23rd May, the sorties of the Battle squadrons were only a fraction below what they had been in daytime. They were used at night primarily against such centres of communication as Givet, Dinant and Charleville, and also against fuel and ammunition dumps at Libramont, Florenville and elsewhere. They attacked concentrations of motorised infantry and tanks concealed in the woods of St. Gobain, Gault and in other places, as well as advanced aerodromes such as those at St. Hubert and Guise, which were used by the enemy's dive bombers. They showed themselves able to locate all these targets at night, often in very difficult conditions, and they inflicted damage which was undoubtedly appreciable.
The report of an R.A.F. officer who was captured by the Germans in France towards the end of May, and subsequently escaped, sheds light on the results achieved. "I had," he says, "an opportunity of inspecting a railway station and marshalling yard on the Somme shortly after it had been bombed, and there is no doubt that the damage was terrific. Trucks and engines had been lifted bodily off the track, and thrown on their sides; many of them had been set on fire, the permanent way had been torn up, railway lines buckled. . . . The general appearance was utter chaos and confusion and reminded one of H. G. Wells' film 'The Shape of Things to Come'."
During the campaign the aerodromes of the Advanced Air Striking Force were attacked by the Luftwaffe, but never very heavily. The most serious damage was the destruction of five Battles on an aerodrome near Rheims and of six Blenheims at Vraux. They were victims of a low-ﬂying attack, but the Lewis gunners of the ground defence shot down at least eight of the enemy aircraft and the attack was not repeated. The comparative lightness of the attacks on aerodromes is probably to be explained by the fact that the enemy's air force was mainly employed in giving close support to his advancing land armies.
On the night of 20th/21st May a very large number of heavy bombers were used against roads and bridges in the neighbourhood of Cambrai and Le Cateau in an effort to interfere with the German advance against Amiens and Arras. Again, during the fighting about Roubaix and Cassel heavy forces attacked the enemy's communications in the Charleville-Courtrai-Diest triangle. Later on in June the crossings over the Somme and the Aisne were frequently attacked. It is not possible to describe all these operations in detail. They opened with the bombing by a force of Whitleys and Hampdens of the communications radiating from the important railway junction of München-Gladbach. The bombs they dropped were the first to fall on German soil with the exception of those which burst on the Island of Sylt on the night of 19th/20th March. Altogether our heavy bombers made twenty-seven major attacks on German communications, dumps, oil-storage tanks, focal points and other similar targets, between 11th May and 15th ]une. Among the more severe and successful were: that delivered on the night of 15th/16th May, when much damage was done to the railway junctions and marshalling yards at Aachen, Roermond, Bocholt, Wesel, München-Gladbach and Cologne, the Autobahn south of Duisburg, and the aerodromes at Duisburg and Eindhoven; that of 20th/21st May, when a number of bridges over the Sambre and Oise were hit, a train at Hirson derailed and an ammunition dump at Nouvion blown up; and the series of attacks delivered in the first fortnight of June on the whole length of the German communications from the marshalling yards in the Rhineland to the Somme, when particular attention was paid to Amiens, the rail head at Hirson and the junction at Aachen.
By 16th June it was certain that France was about to sue for an armistice. On the next day she did so. By then all our bombing forces were being withdrawn from her territory. Nothing more could be achieved by the Advanced Air Striking Force or by Bomber Command. Both had thrown themselves into the battle regardless of losses. They had dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on objectives chosen for them by the French High Command. More than a thousand tons had fallen on the railways of France and Northern Germany alone. Their casualties had been very severe. On 10th May the Advanced Air Striking Force had 135 bombers serviceable. During the next five days they lost 75 of them. From 10th May to 20th June Bomber Command lost forty per cent. of their first-line strength. The pilots and crews had done their utmost. "'Tis not in mortals to command success." These men had done more: they had deserved it.VII - Long Distance Attack:
The British Officer Commanding was in a difficult position; his orders were clear and were twice confirmed by telephone during the evening. Though he did not know it, they were based on decisions taken in consultation and agreement with the French Government, which had in fact placed the aerodrome at our disposal. In view of the very deﬁnite nature of his instructions, he disregarded the protests of the French authorities and continued to make preparations to carry out the raid. About half an hour after midnight the Wellingtons were taxi-ing into position for the take-oft when a number of French military lorries were suddenly driven on to the aerodrome and so dispersed as to make any take-off impossible. The French ofﬁcer in charge of them informed the British Commander that he had been instructed at all costs to prevent the British bombers from taking the air. To avoid an open clash the raid was cancelled and most of the Wellingtons returned to England on the next day. While they were still in the air the French authorities called at the aerodrome to express their regrets at having been compelled to intervene in order to prevent the operation.
As the result of further instructions, the French temporarily withdrew their opposition and the raid took place on the night of 15th/16th June, the target being Genoa. The weather was very bad and only a few bombs were dropped. It was still bad on the next night, but six aircraft found and bombed their targets in Milan. This was the last bombing operation carried out from French soil. The force was evacuated from Marseilles on 18th ]une, the day after the French asked for an armistice. These are the relevant facts concerning its operations. They are here recorded to put an end to any misunderstanding which may still exist.
Although the Wellingtons at Salon were
unable for the reasons
stated to attack their Italian targets, on the night of 11th/12th June
Whitleys from England succeeded in reaching Turin, where the Fiat works
were bombed, and Genoa, where hits were scored on the docks and the
Ansaldo works. Genoa continued to blaze with light throughout the raid.
Considerable damage was done, though this would have been greater had a
larger number of our aircraft been able to reach their targets. Storms
and low cloud prevented two-thirds of them from doing so. The distance
they had to ﬂy was about 1,350 miles there and back, and the Alps had
to be crossed twice during the ﬂight. Here is what the leader of the
raid has to say of it:
Flares Over Turin
"We were warned," he begins, "that over Italy ﬁghter opposition would probably be encountered. The Italian ﬁghters - CR.42's, it was pointed out, were biplanes, with considerable powers of manoeuvre and probably better suited to the task of night interception than the Me.109 or 110. We must be on the look-out for them. Nothing much happened till we were over France after refuelling in the Channel Islands. Then we ran into electrical storms of great severity. There was a good deal of lightning. When we emerged from these into a clear patch somewhere near Bourges the lightning continued. This time it was produced by French ﬂak through which we ﬂew till we ran into heavy weather again and began to climb in order to get over the Alps. I got my heavily laden Whitley to 17,500 feet ﬂying blind on my instruments, but before the climb started in earnest I got a perfect 'ﬁx' of my position from Lac Léman. The town of Geneva at its western end showed bright with many lights. It was ten-tenths cloud over the Alps, but we knew we were crossing them because of the bumps which the aircraft felt every time it crossed a peak. Down we went through the murk till I altered course fifteen degrees to starboard so as to ﬁnd the River Po. I reached it in darkness, but I could make it out by the patches of cultivation along its banks which showed a deeper shade against the prevailing black. I could not see the waters of the river. On we went till I judged we were over Turin. Then I let go a ﬂare which lit up the middle of the city. I turned back at once and climbed to 5,000 feet. When I got to that height I loosed another ﬂare into a cloud which began to glow and shed a soft light over the whole town including the target. I ran in, dropped two bombs, one of which burst on the Fiat building, the other in the railway sidings beside it.
Three raids were made during December, the most important being the attack on Porto Marghera, where large stores of oil and a refinery are situated. This was one of the longest ﬂights made by a bomber of the Royal Air Force carrying bombs, not leaﬂets. It took about nine and a half hours. The aircraft took off from England soon after six in the evening and crossed the North Sea in darkness, for the moon had not risen. Presently the ground beneath was seen to be covered with snow. The temperature fell until at 15,000 feet minus 25 degrees was registered. About half-past nine the aircraft began to climb and reached 15,000 feet for its passage over the Alps. By then the night was clear, though the moon was still not up. Little was seen of the mountain barrier, and when the Wellington began to descend on the other side it became difficult to find landmarks, for the ground was no longer snow-covered. The navigator eventually picked up Venice, whose towers and palaces seemed to ﬂoat upon the lagoon like one of its own once famous ﬂeet of galleys. The aircraft went lower, turning in towards the target which was on the mainland, just west of a bridge near the docks. It was clearly visible; but, to make quite sure, flares were dropped. The Wellington made a run-up along the bridge and discharged its load of incendiaries and high explosives which hit the target fair and square. It remained over the objective for some twenty minutes. "Then," said the pilot, "we turned for home, and as we approached the foothills of the Alps on the way back, the navigator, who was in the astro hatch, said it looked as the moon were sitting on the top of a peak . . . the Alps seemed a little more friendly now. That may have been due to the moon, but probably the fact that we were on the homeward journey had something to do with it too. Frankly, we were none of us sorry to see the last of the mountains."
This ﬂight is typical of those made from England over the Alps and back. It was not dramatic in the accepted sense of the word. Few long-distance bombing ﬂights are. Whether the aircraft has to cross long stretches of sea or land or mountains, the view from it is in essence the same. From above, even the Alps lose, perhaps, some of their dignity.
Porto Marghera was again attacked early
in January, 1941. On
this occasion a thousand-pound bomb, dropped from 700 feet, hit a
building in the middle of the reﬁnery, causing a large ﬁre subsequently
increased by other bombs. The aerodrome at Padua was then
machine-gunned from 20 feet.
Moral Damage of the Raids
These were the main raids made on Italy from this country. No account is taken of others made from bases in the Middle East. In number they were few and the material damage they caused, though considerable - large stocks of rubber in the Pirelli works in Milan were destroyed and for some time the Fiat works were unable to guarantee delivery of anything - was not vital.
The moral damage, however, was undoubtedly severe. Evidence of the panic caused in Northern Italy by the raids is overwhelming. There is no doubt that the population thought the entry of their country into the war would never be more than a gesture, which would bring some of the spoils gained by Germany within their eager grasp.
It brought instead bombs from the Royal Air Force. The first time Turin was attacked the population rushed for the scanty, ill-constructed shelters only to find them packed with the crews of the anti-aircraft guns and searchlights appointed to conduct the defence. A number of their officers were subsequently shot for cowardice. By the end of August there was real panic in Genoa. Its poorer citizens fled daily, raid or no raid, at four in the afternoon to tunnels, where they remained until the following morning. The richer citizens of that and other towns soon had to be prevented by the police from using their cars during air raids, for they fled in such numbers as to cause serious congestion on the roads and in the country villages.
The Italians are a volatile people however, and, when our raids ceased during the month of September and the first half of October, their morale began to recover. More shelters had been built and a number of German anti-aircraft batteries installed. The public were also subjected to a much greater degree of police supervision. The raids began again towards the end of October, and once more morale became very low. By the middle of November it is clear that the Romans were suffering badly from nerves, though no bombs had fallen nearer Rome than Naples. The blackout upset them. Their shelters were very bad, especially on the Esquiline. The main shelter, the Galleria Colonna, when at last open to the public, was found to be a vast rabbit warren of mouldy sand-bags. lt had to be entirely rebuilt by German engineers. Nor were Roman nerves improved by a mistake made by the anti-aircraft defences which, under the impression that a practice air raid was the real thing, opened fire with everything they had, brought down at least two Italian bombers and damaged a number of houses. Because of the frequent street accidents all motoring was forbidden after 9.30 in the evening, and the Roman press repeatedly urged both drivers and pedestrians to show greater self-control. Not only, it pointed out, were persons injured through the collisions of motor-cars or by being run over, but also by "regrettable misunderstandings which only too often end in one or both of the parties being taken to hospital."
The morale of the inhabitants of Southern Italy was for a time quite unaffected by the bombing of the northern towns. They believed that they were immune, that they were living out of range, that no bomber could reach them. The attack on Naples on 31st October came, therefore, with all the greater shock. The same symptoms of panic were immediately apparent. The inhabitants nicknamed the British pilots "milords" and could be heard imploring them not to return or, if they must, to drop their bombs into the sea. The landing of our parachute troops near Mount Vulture in Southern Italy on 10th February, 1941, added to the general disquiet. This operation was carried out by units of the army taken to their objective by Whitleys of Bomber Command. The extent of the material damage they caused is not yet known - elaborate precautions were at once taken to prevent neutral observers from approaching the area - but we do know that the moral effect was very great.
To sum up, the reason why the raids on Italy have not yet been so numerous or so heavy as those on Germany is because of the difficulties inherent in the task of bombing objectives situated so far away from the main bases of our heavy bombers. All long-distance raids depend for their success very largely on the weather. This is always an uncertain factor, especially over the Alps. They have undoubtedly had an effect out of proportion to the number of aircraft used or bombs dropped. Italian morale appears to rise and fall in direct ratio to the number of raids. At the moment it is good; but the nights grow longer.
After the fall of Norway, followed six weeks later by that of Holland, Belgium and France, the enemy found himself in control of some sixteen hundred miles of coast stretching from the North Cape to the western end of the Pyrenees. To supply the troops guarding the coast and the garrisons in the countries behind it is a difficult task. Much of the necessary provisions and stores must be carried by sea, and it is here that the Germans are vulnerable. They are concerned about shipping and, possessing only a small navy, much of which was destroyed during the Norwegian campaign, they cannot, as we can, run large convoys under naval protection from their supply bases to the ports in occupied territory. They seek, therefore, to send their ships creeping from harbour to harbour, hugging the coast in order to elude the vigilance of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Many of the ships are of no great size and can use the smaller ports and creeks in which to shelter and land their cargoes. There are too many of these to make the mining of all of them a feasible operation. It was, therefore, decided to mine those areas through which such ships must most frequently pass. To do so offered the best chance of interfering with enemy naval and supply vessels. Seven areas were accordingly chosen in which mines were to be laid. Two may be disregarded for the purposes of this record, as they were allotted to Coastal Command. The five in which Bomber Command operated were: Norwegian waters, those of the Belts and the Sound to the north of Denmark, the Baltic, the Kiel Canal and the mouth of the Elbe and the Bay of Biscay. In these areas, points where mines were to be laid were chosen.
The nature of the mines used must still remain a secret. All that can be said at present is that they are cylindrical in shape, some 10 feet long, very sensitive in action and provided with a parachute to check the the speed of their fall. The mine can only be released from a low altitude, or, partially supported by its parachute attachment, it will drift through the air and not fall in the chosen spot. Great accuracy in navigation is therefore essential if the mine is to be laid where it will do most damage. The navigator takes his aircraft by the usual methods to a point on the enemy’s coast near to the selected place. This is always close to land - a channel, a canal, an estuary, the mouth of a harbour. Here comes the most dangerous part of the operation. On making landfall the position of the aircraft is carefully pin-pointed. It is then necessary to descend very low and fly for so many minutes on a straight course at a certain speed. This brings the aircraft over the right spot and the mine is dropped.
It is in the accurate pin-pointing by means of landmarks on the coast and in the subsequent run up to the point chosen that the skill of the navigator is tested to the full. He must make sure of his exact position otherwise the operation is a failure. It is not unusual for a mine-laying aircraft to fly round and round and up and down for a very considerable time, occasionally even for as long as an hour, in order to make quite sure that the mine is laid exactly in the correct place. When opposition in the form of anti-aircraft fire or night-fighters is met with, the difficulties attending such an operation are obvious. It calls for great skill and resolution. Moreover, the crew do not have the satisfaction of seeing even the partial results of their work. There is no coloured explosion, no burgeoning of fire to report on their return home. At best all they see is a splash on the surface of a darkened and inhospitable sea.
In Norwegian waters between May and November six ships were sunk and six damaged, the most important being a German tanker of 10,500 tons which spilt its cargo of oil over the surface of the sea. These results may be regarded as striking, since the number of mines laid off Norwegian coasts during those seven months was not large.
Difficulties of navigation in the Kiel Canal were first observed in November when ships were taking a week to sail from Bremen to the Baltic. A ship with a cargo of iron ore sank in the canal, blocking it for several weeks. The sides and bottom of the canal were damaged by another mine a little later.
In July, off Warnemünde in the Baltic, a German destroyer returning from Copenhagen was sunk with the German Commander-in-Chief of the troops in Denmark on board, and in November the German State Railways were refusing to ship goods via that port.
In August a Swedish ship sank in Kiel Bay and another in the Southern Baltic in October. In November the masts and funnels of forty-eight sunken ships were counted in the Delfzijl area.
To move to the coast of occupied France. In October a French liner struck a mine at the mouth of the Gironde and was beached. Soon afterwards a cargo boat laden with live pigs was sunk off St. Nazaire, the corpses of the pigs coming ashore in large numbers. In November an armed merchantman was sunk off Lorient.
These examples of damage taken from published sources and information which has come through other and secret channels show the measure of success achieved in the first ten months of the operations.
Apart from these specific instances of damage and loss the enemy has been forced to embark on a burdensome and continuous programme of mine-sweeping in waters which he has always regarded as entirely under his control. If the orders issued to Danish and Swedish shipyards to press on with the building of more and more ships are any guide to the situation, it would seem that he is beginning to face a shortage of tonnage. Much of this deficiency may unquestionably be attributed to the mines laid by Bomber and Coastal Commands. The work of mine-laying goes on night after night. It has proved its worth. It has been a great military success. "Operations," as the official communiqués say, "are proceeding."IX - Why the Invasion Armada Never Sailed
To have a clear idea of the very important role which they are playing, and to see how the fighting has affected them, it is necessary to examine their functions, equipment and capacity in times of peace. The invasion ports face us in a crescent. ln its centre the nearest of them, Calais, is only twenty-one miles away, but all are within a distance of a hundred miles, and all were, therefore, at that time of year - August and September - within a night's sail of our coasts for the enemy's barges. The ports in the centre are mainly built to handle passenger traffic. On the ﬂanks are some of the world's greatest cargo ports. This arrangement is admirable for the enemy's purpose. Ports built to cope with hurrying passengers can also quickly embark masses of troops, while the enormous facilities of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Le Havre and Amsterdam can ship the largest quantities of supplies in the shortest possible time. In fact, had the enemy built the ports himself for the express purpose of invading this country, he could hardly have improved on their actual layout.
To go from north to south - Amsterdam, the commercial capital of Holland, is connected with the North Sea by a canal with its entrance at Ymuiden. Here British demolition parties had done what damage they could in those few strenuous days in May when Holland was being overrun; but after four months the Germans had made repairs sufficient for their purpose.
Rotterdam, with its outlet at the Hook of Holland, is one of the largest ports in Europe and is the natural exit of the heavy industries of the Rhine and Ruhr. It had been heavily bombed by the Germans, but the enemy had been careful only to lay low the business and residential part of the town, leaving the harbour wellnigh intact. So swift was his advance that it was possible to do very little to destroy the port's facilities.
Next comes the estuary of the Scheldt. Flushing, at the mouth, is well equipped for passengers and has extensive basins. Ghent, which is joined by a sea canal to Terneuzen on the estuary, is a commercial port of more importance than is generally realised. At the head of the navigable estuary stands Antwerp, one of the oldest and yet most modern commercial ports in the world - that same Antwerp which Napoleon said was a pistol pointed at the heart of England.
Then there is the Belgian coast, famous in the last war because of the "Wet Triangle," Bruges-Zeebrugge-Ostend. Bruges has its main outlet at Zeebrugge. The British did not intend to be caught a second time, so this entrance was effectively sealed by blocking the canal mouth. The historic mole itself, however, cannot be blocked, and all through those September days German transports lay alongside the spot where the men of the "Vindictive" had fought and conquered. Ostend is the headquarters of the Belgian Marine and is admirably equipped to deal with large quantities of troops.
Next is Dunkirk. It had been heavily bombed and shelled in June. We had blocked the entrance channel as the last of our troops came away. Thus Dunkirk was of no use to the enemy's heavy ships, but some of its splendid facilities had been repaired, and the shallow draught barges could nose their way over the sunken block-ships. Everyone knows Calais, Boulogne and Dieppe, and many may have thought of the oddness of the situation when the tramp of German jackboots replaces the hurrying feet of passengers on these well-known quays. Dieppe, however, we had time to block, and this port was of little use to the enemy.
At the mouth of the Seine Valley stands Le Havre, another of the world's great commercial ports, the home of the "Normandie," and one of our main bases in the last war. Lastly comes Cherbourg, a naval base of the first importance with a splendid new harbour for handling transatlantic passengers. Neither Le Havre nor Cherbourg can be blocked, and neither was damaged seriously enough to hinder the enemy.
In all these ports and harbours a formidable collection of barges and small craft were gradually concentrated. They came by devious ways. Some hugged the coast close in to shore; others chugged through the network of canals spread over Holland, Belgium and Northern France.
The word "barge" conjures up a pleasant picture of a bluff-nosed wooden craft with a gaily-painted stern supporting a cabin in which a fat and comfortable woman can be perceived while, forward, the bargee exchanges back-chat with the lock-keeper. The barges collecting against us in the invasion ports were very different. German, Dutch, Belgian and French barges are of all sizes up to 3,000 tons carrying capacity, although the largest are few in number and limited to special trades. The most common type can carry between 300 and 400 tons and if self-propelled has a speed of about eight knots.
The Germans decided to use barges for two main reasons. In the first place they were ready to hand, for they were everywhere to be found in convenient numbers. In peace time, barges carried four-fifths of the products of industry in that part of the world. There were some 18,000 registered in Holland, some 8,000 in Belgium and many thousands more in Northern Germany and Northern France. A conservative estimate made last September put the number of self-propelled barges suitable for the enemy's purpose at not less than 3,000. Those which could be towed by tugs were many times more numerous.
In the second place a barge is peculiarly suitable for the transport of vehicles which have to be landed in a hurry, perhaps in the face of hostile fire. To land a tank or an armoured car or a lorry on to a beach from an ordinary ship is extremely difficult. The vehicle must be lowered on to a lighter or pontoon, which in turn has to be run on to the beach. The barge runs direct on to it in shallow water and the vehicle can reach land dryshod by means of a ramp and a comparatively simple alteration of the barge's bows. The 3,000 barges gradually collected in ports and harbours from Amsterdam to Cherbourg had a potential carrying capacity of some 1,000,000 tons, while that of the ships amounted to about 4,000,000. They were a direct and immediate threat; but they were also a large and important target, dispersed it was true, but immobile in ports, harbours, basins and anchorages within comfortable range. No time was lost in bombing them. Ten attacks were delivered in the month of July, 1940, on barges and shipping from Rotterdam to Boulogne, as well as on barges found in the Dutch, Belgian and French canals. In September the attacks were multiplied on all these and other ports, including Antwerp, Flushing, Ostend, Dunkirk, Calais and Le Havre. They were heaviest on the two nights 8th/9th and 9th/10th September, on 11th/12th September and from 19th September to 3rd October: but they continued without much abatement to Christmas and well on into this year. They have, in fact, never ceased and will go on as long as any threat of sea-borne invasion remains.
Up to 31st May, 1941, Delfzijl had been attacked four times, Den Helder twenty-six, Amsterdam-Ymuiden twenty-four, Rotterdam twenty-eight, Antwerp thirty-three, Flushing fifty-five, Ostend seventy-five, Dunkirk sixty-two, Calais seventy-four, Boulogne eighty-nine, Dieppe eight, Le Havre forty, Rouen once, and Cherbourg sixteen. In all 536 attacks were made. It is a formidable list and the end is not yet. Far from it. Yet, when it comes to count up the damage done, a certain prudence is necessary. Ports and harbours, though fairly easy to find and therefore to bomb, are hard to destroy. The vulnerable points are surrounded by much water and by heavy stone quays on which bombs have a limited effect. Barges and small surface craft are very difficult to hit. To attempt to assess the damage would be a mistake. Such adjectives as "appreciable" or "considerable" can convey only a general impression, and a more accurate word may not be appropriate as long as operations are still in progress. At one time, especially in October and November, 1940, there were many rumours in America and the Continent that the invading flotillas had actually begun to put to sea, when they were overwhelmed by our bombers. The date was said to be on or about 15th September. It is true that there were very large concentrations of barges and other ships about that time in the Channel Ports, and that there was a considerable volume of shipping moving inland along the canals. These were heavily bombed. It seems probable that they were destined to play a part in the second stage of an attack of which the first stage was to destroy our naval and air bases and our fighter forces, and thus gain command of the air. The barges and other ships were observed to move into position at the beginning of an air attack either in order to sail at zero hour on a predetermined day or to exploit a success at short notice.
In addition to bombing ports and harbours, occupied aerodromes and long-range gun emplacements were constantly attacked by day and night. In all, up to 31st May, 1941, there were 261 attacks made on 20 coastal aerodromes from Stavanger in Norway to Cherbourg in France. Many others inland at Merville, Amiens, St. Omer, and Abbeville, to name but four, were also included. The object was to hinder as far as possible the mounting of the mass attacks launched on this country from the beginning of August to the end of October, 1940, when the enemy finally, if tacitly, acknowledged that he had lost the Battle of Britain. Sometimes our aircraft fared ill. The attack on Aalborg aerodrome in Denmark carried out on 13th August, 1940, cost eleven out of twelve Blenheims, but on the whole our casualties in these attacks were not unduly high.
At the beginning of 1941 a new form of assault was tried by the Royal Air Force. A small number of bombers, heavily escorted by fighters, were sent out at frequent intervals by day against the enemy. The results have so far proved very satisfactory. On several occasions the Germans have been caught unprepared and have lost aircraft on the ground. Twenty-three sweeps composed of bombers and fighters were carried out between 10th January and 16th ]une. After that date they rapidly increased in number and strength. Thirty-six took place up to 12th July, one of the most successful being on 10th July when over 20,000 tons of enemy shipping was hit in Cherbourg and Le Havre.
It is sometimes forgotten in this country that the North Sea is also called the German Ocean. This name has always been present in the minds of the Germans. To deny the use of that sea to us in the last war they built a powerful navy, which had to be defeated and confined to port before the German Ocean could again become the North Sea. In this war, lacking a large fleet, the Germans are seeking to achieve and maintain control over it by means of the Luftwaffe. Not the least of the boasts made in Berlin is that, thanks to the great German Air Force, German shipping has the free run of the seas from Sogne Fjord to the borders of Spain. This boast has not yet been made good, but it would be idle to pretend that the Luftwaffe is not a factor of the greatest importance in the North Sea. Under their protection German supply ships carry food and munitions of war for the German garrisons in the Norwegian fjords, in the ports and harbours of Holland, and even in the great French bases of Brest, St. Nazaire, and Lorient. The more the Germans can use the sea, the smaller grows their ever-present problem of supply. Moreover their ships do not require to venture far out from shore; they can creep along close to land where the protection afforded by the Luftwaffe must of necessity be most effective.
During last autumn and winter, weather
conditions made the
attacking such ships almost insoluble. With the coming of spring,
however, a plan has been evolved and put into execution which is
already yielding appreciable results.
How Bombers Get Through
The Luftwaffe, large though its resources are, has a very large area to defend. The coast-line of the occupied countries is about 1,600 miles in length. It is not possible for it to be in strength everywhere along the whole of that line. The defence has inevitably to be concentrated at certain of the more important or more vulnerable points. Elsewhere it is thin, and there are stretches of sea and coast where it is possible for a fast bomber to operate before the fighter defence has time to intercept it.
There are various ways in which ships or objectives on the fringe of Germany, Holland, Belgium and Northern France can be attacked, and all have been used by Blenheims of Bomber Command, to which this form of offensive action against the enemy has been entrusted.
One method is to ﬂy over the target area by taking every advantage of cloud cover when it is available. Sometimes, when there is much cloud, bombers are enabled to travel great distances unseen. They can thus cross the enemy air defence system and press home their attacks before his fighter defence can operate. This method has been successfully used in attacking the docks at Flushing and at Ymuiden, power stations and factories at Den Helder and industrial objectives in Germany itself.
Another method is to send over bombers escorted by a number of fighter squadrons. Results have been achieved in Northern France in the area of Calais and Boulogne and farther inland. Such attacks, however, are of necessity limited by the short range of high-speed fighters.
The way in which a ship is attacked must be more closely described. Flying low, the pilot will lift the aircraft just sufficiently high to clear the mast and drop the bombs. The attack is made at full throttle, if possible from the direction of the sun. So low is the aircraft above its target that it is not usual to make any use of the bomb sight. The ship is attacked either from bow to stern or vice versa or on the beam. It depends on circumstances. The greatest judgment is needed in making low-flying attacks on shipping. In bad weather - and the weather is often bad in the North Sea - the windscreens of the aircraft become covered with spray, making visibility almost nil. On the other hand, the ships attacked find accurate shooting with their anti-aircraft guns difficult.
In another attack on an objective near Bergen a single Blenheim machine-gunned five Messerschmitt 110’s on the ground and two about to take off. It dropped bombs on the runway, the second of which skidded along, pulled up under a Messerschmitt 110 and exploded. The Blenheim then joined another in the offing and the two of them, ﬂying so close together that their wing tips overlapped, fought off three Me.110’s who followed them seventy miles out to sea. Both Blenheims were hit, but reached their base in safety.
The daylight attacks on enemy ports are being extended to more distant objectives on the coast of Germany itself and some way inland. Among them are Bremen, Oldenburg and Kiel. The raid on Bremen on 4th July is especially noteworthy. It was carried out at very low level. The leader flew beneath electric power cables and in between balloon barrage cables. The target, a factory, was hit fair and square. Bits and pieces rose into the air 700 feet above his aircraft. One Blenheim came back festooned with telegraph wires. Another was last seen with its starboard engine on fire making a bombing run on the target. The leader of this attack was awarded the Victoria Cross.
A most successful attack on shipping in the harbour of Rotterdam was made on the afternoon of 16th July. A strong force of Blenheims, warmly welcomed by the Dutch as they flew over Holland in V-shaped formations, swept in to the attack mast high. They dropped their bombs among the shipping. In all, seventeen ships of an estimated tonnage of between 90,000 and 100,000 tons were put out of action either permanently or for a long time to come. Five more ships of a tonnage of 40-50,000 were severely damaged, while on shore two warehouses and a factory were hit and left burning fiercely.
In this operation four Blenheims were shot down, two of them after completing their attack.
Between 12th March and 14th July of this year, Blenheims of Bomber Command made 1,750 sorties during which they saw about 1,055 enemy ships of various classes from small warships such as destroyers, naval escort ships and flak ships down to minesweepers and fishing vessels. Of these 401 were attacked of a gross tonnage amounting to about 741,000 tons; of this total 292,940 tons was hit and sunk and a further 109,920 sustained minor damage due to close misses.
Another result achieved by these attacks on shipping is the imposition of a great and increasing strain on the enemy’s railway systems. The railways in France, Belgium and Holland, together with those in North-Western Germany are finding it more and more difficult to cope with the traffic they have to carry. Delays are a commonplace and have become so great that the enemy is compelled to use ships more and more. The more he uses ships, the larger is the number of targets he provides for aircraft of Bomber and Coastal Commands.
All this has not been accomplished without casualties. Between 12th March and 14th July sixty-eight Blenheims have been lost in low-ﬂying attacks.
The work is hazardous and calls for special qualities of determination.
XI - Battle of the Atlantic
The "Scharnhorst" was no new target. She was first found and bombed on 1st July, 1940, when she was in a floating dock at Kiel. An eye-witness account, that of the navigator in the aircraft which hit the ship with a heavy bomb, tells us what happened. "I directed my line of sight on the floating dock," he said, "which stood out sharply in the estuary. Searchlights caught us in the dive, but we went under the beam. Then I put the captain into dive as we came on the target. The 'Scharnhorst' couldn't be missed; she stood out so plainly . . . I could clearly see tracers coming from the pom-pom on the deck of the 'Scharnhorst'." After describing the damage inflicted a few seconds later on the aircraft by A.A. fire - it included a hole two foot square in the tail-plane - he goes on: "We came down very low to make sure, and when we were dead in line I released a stick of bombs. A vast shoot of reddish-yellow flame came from the deck."
The "Scharnhorst" was undoubtedly damaged on that occasion, but the hurt she received was not mortal. She was out with the "Gneisenau" raiding in the Atlantic at the beginning of 1941, and both ships, after a fairly successful foray during which they sank some twenty British and Allied merchantmen, took refuge in Brest, where on the date on which this was written they still remain. One of them is in dry dock, the other alongside a quay. Both are more or less sewn to the land by camouflage netting.
To inflict these hurts upon the enemy warships, an enormous weight of bombs has been dropped. The great majority of them have not hit the ships, but that does not mean that they did no harm. A large number hit the docks and dockyard installations. The conditions in the port of Brest are certainly very bad, perhaps even chaotic. This has been caused entirely by the heavy bombing. The work of repairing the warships must have been very difficult, for the workmen had to work under constant air raid alarms, with no lights at all, which meant that the acetylene welding plant could only be used during the day. Many of the dockyard facilities must certainly have been broken or put out of action. Living conditions on board the ships must soon have become impossible and in all probability the crews were evacuated to places nearby, where they might be reasonably safe from bombing. This was not good for their morale.
The difficulties of an attack on Brest are not always realised. The Germans have done their utmost since it fell into their hands to make it immune from air attack. In this they have not succeeded, but an assault upon it by bomber aircraft is a hazardous operation. Brest is protected by a very heavy concentration of A.A. guns, by a balloon barrage and by a formidable array of searchlights. There are also patrols of fighters on the watch to intercept our bombers. When weather conditions are suitable a smoke screen is laid over the targets in the dock area in order to make the task of our bomb-aimers yet more difficult. It is not uncommon for a pilot to report that his aircraft has been held in a cone of searchlights for more than five minutes while he was over the target. Brest has been attacked sixty-nine times up to 10th July.
Whatever may be the amount of damage which has been inflicted on the "Scharnhorst," "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen," one broad fact is patent for all to see. Not one of these three ships, vital elements as they are in the battle of the Atlantic, has taken any part in it for a long time, the "Gneisenau" and "Scharnhorst" since the end of March, the "Prinz Eugen" since the beginning of June. Hitler has been forced, during the five critical months from April to August of this year, to fight that battle without three naval units of great power which might, had they been on the high seas, have added enormously to the shipping casualties which German submarines and aircraft have been able to cause.
Another and possibly even more important result was also achieved. There is very little doubt that by keeping the "Gneisenau" and "Scharnhorst" in port Bomber Command compelled the German Admiralty to send out the "Bismarck" in a desperate attempt to regain the initiative which it was rapidly losing. The sinking of that great warship is thus indirectly, but none the less surely, due to the part played by our bombers.
One of the most successful operations took place on 24th July in conjunction with the attack on La Pallice. Three days before, the "Scharnhorst," the "Gneisenau" and the "Prinz Eugen" were observed to be still lying in Brest. At noon on the 22nd a reconnaissance aircraft of Coastal Command reported that the "Scharnhorst" was no longer there. At 8.30 in the morning of the next day she was discovered at La Pallice, 240 miles to the south. Efforts had been made at Brest to conceal her departure by putting a tanker in the berth which she had occupied, and covering it with the same camouflage netting as had been used to hide the warship. A daylight attack on La Pallice was made by Stirlings, and the "Scharnhorst" was hit by one of them bearing "V" as its recognition letter. That night Whitleys, in conjunction with aircraft of Coastal Command, attacked La Pallice in force, starting numerous fires. On the next day a large force of Wellingtons and Hampdens with fighter escort and a small number of the American-designed and built Fortresses went in daylight to Brest, while Halifaxes attacked La Pallice, and Blenheims, with a fighter escort of Spitfires, raided Cherbourg. These attacks were carefully timed and were pressed home with great energy; they were led by the Fortresses. The Halifaxes scored another hit on the "Scharnhorst" at La Pallice. She had now been hit at least twice in two days, and the damage done was such that she had to return to Brest, which she reached on 26th July. She was immediately put into dry dock. The Germans are at the time of writing once more at their monotonous task of repairing her.
At Brest the "Gneisenau" was hit once by the Fortresses, bombing from a height at which they were almost invisible and inaudible, and six times by the Wellingtons and Hampdens. The "Prinz Eugen" was straddled and bombs burst on the quayside and in the torpedo station.
In the course of the attacks on these three ports we lost 15 bombers and seven fighters, the losses of the enemy being 34 fighters, of which 21 were accounted for by our bombers. The anti-aircraft fire was severe. "The black bursts over Brest looked from a distance like a huge flock of starlings," said the pilot of a Boeing Fortress.
These aircraft rely mainly on the height and speed which they attain, to avoid trouble. They do not fly outside the range of enemy fighters, but at the height at which they operate the manoeuvring power of a fighter is greatly reduced. The Fortresses have many new devices, about which little can be said at present. The Sperry bomb sight, with which they are fitted, is an instrument of remarkable precision. A long course of training in its use is necessary - so complicated is it - but the bomb-aimer, once proficient, can achieve very gratifying results. Their engines are supercharged, and powerful enough to take the aircraft to a height at which without oxygen a man would be unconscious in six minutes and dead in thirty. So excellent have its design and construction proved to be, that the Fortress is habitually flown many thousands of feet higher than the operational height at which it was designed to fly. Its ceiling has not yet been accurately discovered. Rarely in the history of man has metal, stationary or moving, been taken to such heights.
The crew numbers seven, two pilots, an observer-navigator, a wireless operator, a wireless operator-airgunner, and two airgunners. They wear electrically-heated clothing. To avoid breaking out into a sweat which would freeze on them and keep them cold no matter what they were wearing, they put this on in stages as the aircraft climbs. They are supplied with oxygen, of which many spare bottles are carried in special containers distributed all over the aircraft.
The effect, both physical and mental, on a man ﬂying at the great height at which these bombers operate is, generally speaking, severe; only men who succeed in passing special tests, carried out in pressure chambers, form the crews. They run a twofold risk unknown at lower altitudes. Their bodies may become affected by the strain, and then they experience a form of cramp known as the "bends" which may immobilise them in blind and speechless pain till a lower level is reached; their minds may become subject to alternating fits of exaggerated hope or despair between which only the strongest will can strike a true balance.
Three other French ports on the western sea-board have also received attention from Bomber Command. These are St. Nazaire, attacked three times, Bordeaux attacked seven and Lorient attacked no fewer than forty-four times. Bordeaux and Lorient are very important submarine bases. Last year the attacks on them were heaviest during the month of December, but they have gone on intermittently ever since. There is no doubt that submarines have been sunk and damaged. How many in either category it is not possible to say with certainty. Two indirect results have also been achieved. The crews of the submarines in port for a rest can no longer feel safe in their bases at Lorient or Bordeaux. The repairing of submarines has lately become far more difficult in Lorient. Taken together, these facts indicate that by March of this year Lorient had become distinctly unhealthy. The disturbance caused to rest, which to overworked crews engaged on the most perilous of duties is an absolute necessity, may well have affected their physical condition and morale.
Finally, there is the aerodrome at Merignac near Bordeaux. This is one of the main bases of the big four-engined Kondors which prey on our Atlantic shipping and which, since we have no air bases in Eire, are difficult to counter. It was attacked seven times up to 31st May, considerable damage being done on the night of 4th/5th February. On that occasion it would seem that the morale of the aerodrome personnel was affected. They all took to the woods clad in their nightshirts. Their officers took a serious view. A call for volunteers to drag the aircraft to safety was made, but produced only two candidates. Details of their costume are lacking.
Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force is divided into Groups. Some are first line and others are Operational Training Groups. They are connected by direct lines to Headquarters, Bomber Command, which house the Commander-in-Chief and his staff. Of the operational Groups, some operate against the enemy at night only and some by day. During the early part of the war before bombing by night began, all the operational Groups made sorties in daylight.
Each Group is divided into stations, each station having one or more aerodromes. The types of aircraft in use vary according to the Groups.
The success of all bomber operations depends on a close collaboration of the air officers commanding the Groups and the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief. These men are in constant touch, and though the final decision rests, of course, with the Commander-in-Chief, his subordinate commanders are allowed considerable latitude in the manner in which they carry out his orders. The commanders of the Groups keep tally of the daily strength of their Commands, which is communicated to Headquarters; so that the Commander-in-Chief knows exactly how many bombers and of what type he has at his disposal at any given moment.
The close connection maintained between all those in authority in Bomber Command makes possible the operation of a ﬂexible plan so constructed as to make any desired change quickly and with no dislocation. So carefully has the plan been worked out, so adaptable is it, that all the Commander-in-Chief has to do is to press every morning the trigger of a gun which has long before been aimed at the enemy. How he presses it, that is, how he gives the immediate orders for an attack on Germany, will be told in a moment.
The work of the Intelligence section of Bomber Command is of great importance, for it provides the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief with the information he requires to design operations. Its staff must absorb and store facts about any subject connected with the enemy and must be prepared to place their knowledge immediately, or at the shortest notice, at his disposal. They know the Air Ministry Directives and the general bombing policy which is being pursued during any given period. They can, therefore, foretell to a certain extent what kind of information is likely to be demanded. Thus, if the enemy’s ship-building yards are to be the object of attack, they will be prepared with the fullest available details about the yards at Hamburg, Bremen and other ports. If the Directive concerns oil plants or power stations or aircraft factories, they will have information ready on all these targets.
Every listed target is the subject of a
separate file containing a map,
photographs, plans, information on output, landmarks which enable the
target to be found, notes on defences and vulnerability. Duplicate sets
of these files are kept in the Operations Room at
Headquarters and there is in addition a complete index of place names
showing the number and nature of the targets in any town or place in
Germany. The Intelligence Branch is in close and constant touch with
the Plans Branch, both at Bomber Command and at the Air Ministry, with
other Royal Air Force Commands, with the Admiralty through the naval
liaison officer and with the Air Ministry Intelligence Service.
In the Operations Room
First, then, let us come with the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief into his operations room at the Headquarters of Bomber Command. It is nine o’clock in the morning. Beneath a grassy mound, protected by deep layers of concrete, lies the place where he will order the forthcoming attack. Whether sunshine or rain prevail outside, inside downstairs there is always the soft light of a spring day shining steadily from half-concealed reﬂectors upon an oblong room of lofty and gracious proportions. It is air-conditioned, floored with rubber, and entered by a single door only. This door and the stairway leading to it are guarded by sentries and no one lacking the proper authority may pass in or out.
On the main wall opposite the door there are three blackboards each about 30 feet by 10 feet. These display the Order of Battle. The Commander-in-Chief has only to glance at them to see at once the exact strength of every Group, the whereabouts of the squadrons in it, and the total number of aircraft available.
The left-hand board is devoted to current operations. It shows what Groups are carrying out what tasks and what targets were chosen for attack on the previous night. Information upon it is written in chalk in two colours; that inscribed in yellow shows what it was decided to do, that in red what was actually carried out. The information on the other boards is displayed in material more durable than chalk and is kept up to date once every twenty-four hours. Above these boards, which occupy the whole of one wall, is a clock, and below it the date displayed in large letters and figures. The right-hand wall of the oblong room is covered by a meteorological map showing the state of the weather. The data displayed on it are changed every eight hours. Beside it is a moon chart recording the periods of moonlight and darkness throughout the month. Opposite on the left-hand wall is a quarter-inch map of Northern Europe showing the main targets. Their positions are marked by pins with coloured labels attached to them on which the code formula for each target is written. On the back wall is a similar map displaying the main targets in Italy.
To the left of the door, a short distance out from the wall, are the desks of the controller and the duty officers. Telephones on these desks connect Headquarters with the Groups and the Air Ministry.
In the left centre of the room stands
the desk of the
Commander-in-Chief. Near it are three large tables mounted on pivots so
that they can be moved at will from the horizontal to the
perpendicular. On the first of these are pinned the maps in current use
for the night's operations. There is also a photographic mosaic of the
whole territory of the Ruhr. On the second table there is a large map
of Europe showing the routes to the various targets and places where
German night fighters seek to intercept our bombers or where they are
known to patrol. The data on this map are changed every twenty-four
hours in accordance with information supplied by the Air Ministry. On
this table, too, are a number of target maps grouped round a
large-scale map showing where the targets they depict are situated. The
third table displays graphs from which can be learnt immediately the
number of times various classes of targets have been attacked. There is
also a map of Berlin and enlarged photographic reproductions of the
more important targets.
Targets for To-night
Seated at his desk the Commander-in-Chief makes a rapid appreciation of the situation from the reports of the previous night's operations and from information which may be supplied to him verbally by the senior air staff officer, and the group captain in charge of operations. The type of target to be attacked is already known. It has been chosen by the War Cabinet which determines the major direction of our air offensive. The Air Ministry issues directives from time to time based on the decisions of the Cabinet. It is the duty and responsibility of the A.O.C.-in-C. to implement these general directives. Before he can choose the targets for the night he must consult meteorological experts, for his choice is dependent on weather and visibility. These experts are civilian members of the Air Ministry and serve in all the Groups and Stations throughout the Command. Their head awaits him beside the board on which the picture of the weather is displayed. It is not always possible for the met. officer to give a final forecast of the night's weather at nine o'clock in the morning. He is, however, in a position to indicate the general trend over more than one area. The final forecast is made sometimes as late as 4 o'clock in the afternoon, after the mid-day telephone conference has taken place between the Group met. officers.
The met. officer delivers a short lecture on the weather, which may last some ten minutes. It is his practice to be as definite as the vagaries of his subject allow. He talks not only of the weather on the route, but of that which our aircraft will find over their aerodromes on their return.
The Commander-in-Chief returns to his desk with his mind made up concerning the areas containing the possible targets for the night's attack. Before he chooses the actual targets he may call for information from the chief intelligence officer and the group captain in charge of operations. Photographs of different targets are brought to him. Then he makes his choice.
This point decided, the C.-in-C. takes
up a form marked
Daily Allotment of Targets." On this he writes down the code formula
for the targets to be attacked, the number of aircraft in each Group to
take part in the operations and the proportion of incendiary and high
explosive bombs to be carried. This sheet constitutes the written order
for the operation. It is passed to the Controller, who at once issues
the necessary orders to the Groups. The Commander-in-Chief then
returns to his office. The process has taken less than an hour and in
that period it is possible for him, if he so desires it, to plan the
despatch to any target of any fraction or of the whole of the bomber
The scene must now be shifted to a Group Headquarters. Here, on the outskirts of some town in East Anglia, the Midlands or the North of England, the Air Officer Commanding the Group receives the orders. These are sent to him on the direct telephone line and by teleprinter. He knows the number of aircraft he is required to despatch on the night's mission, and he then decides how many squadrons he will use and what stations he will operate. Much the same procedure as that which has been followed at Headquarters, Bomber Command, is now carried out at Group Headquarters. They despatch the orders and indicate the targets to the commanders of the Stations chosen for the night's operation. The Station and Group met. officers next meet in conference over the telephone.
At Station Headquarters, the scene is still the same, but the scale is smaller. The Station commander, a group captain, sends for his squadron commander and operations officer. He repeats the orders he has received. The aiming points on the target maps are marked in readiness for the night's operation.
The squadron commander faces one main problem: How can the allotted target be most easily located and identified? This depends primarily on the conditions of visibility. Is there enough moon? In that case it should be easy. Is it a dark night with clouds? In that case the aircraft may have to spend upwards of an hour in the target area before the crew can make certain that they have found their mark. Then there is the distance between the base and the target to be considered. Sufficient petrol has to be carried for the journey out and back, and a margin provided for the time spent over the target and for the possibility that cloud or fog over the base aerodrome may make it necessary for the aircraft to be diverted to more distant aerodromes. A vital factor affecting the amount of petrol to be carried is the course to be taken. This is often not direct, since the attacking aircraft must avoid, if possible, areas where flak or searchlights have been concentrated. There is, for example, a searchlight "corridor" in Northern Germany that is well known to the Royal Air Force and has to be reckoned with every time targets at Bremen, Hamburg or in the Ruhr area are attacked.
The size of the bomb loads is laid down in the Group Operation Orders, but the load may be reduced by the Station commander if he thinks it necessary to do so for local reasons. It must be emphasised that, once the target has been chosen and the aircraft "bombed up," to change it at short notice, although not impossible, is difficult. It means changes in the fuel and bomb load. These cannot be made in a few minutes, and if the decision is left too late, it may mean that an unsuitable bomb load will be delivered at the target.XIII - The Crew That Strikes:
As soon as the preliminary orders for the raid have been received, the work of fuelling and "bombing-up" is put in hand. The flight-sergeant in charge of the bomb dump and his staff make up the different bomb loads and the yellow-painted bombs are loaded on to trolley trains drawn by tractors. These trains visit each aircraft and the bombs are transferred from them to the bomb hatches. Portable cranes are used and the bombs, which have already been fused at the bomb dump, are slung into position. They are attached to the aircraft by means of lugs and released by an electro-magnetic system which is controlled by switches operated by the bomb-aimer. The fitting of the bomb accurately into its rack calls for time and trouble. The lugs attached to the bomb must be correctly aligned with the lugs in the bomb hatches, otherwise the bomb will not fit. To do this in a hurry with bombs weighing a thousand pounds or more is not easy and requires skill, practice and team work. An expert "bombing-up" squad of twenty-eight men can load fifteen aircraft in two hours.
Once seated, the crews are told what they have to do that night. Here is an actual briefing for an attack on an oil target. It is the squadron commander or the intelligence officer who is speaking: -
"The target to-night is the synthetic-oil plant at Gelsenkirchen. There are two main types of oil plants in Germany: oil refineries for treating crude oil, imported or home-produced, and synthetic-oil plants. The Gelsenberg-Benzin A.-G., which is our target, consists of two atmospheric distillation units producing petrol from coal.
"The development and extension of these works was undertaken in 1938. Their output capacity is 325,000 metric tons per annum.
"The most vital section of this plant,
and also the most vulnerable, is
the hydrogenation plant itself - marked 'B' on the illustration. It
lies in the top half of the target running from the narrow-neck in a
north-westerly direction and covers most of that part of the target.
This section of the plant consists of the
following principal components: -
(1) Compressor house.
(2) Hydrogenation stalls.
(3) Water-gas units.
(4) C.O. conversion plant.
(5) Sulphur purification.
"A direct hit with a large bomb on the compressor house, where the low pressure hydrogen lines lead to the compressors, will cause a real explosion which is always likely to lead to severe damage in a building containing a large amount of moving machinery.
"Damage to the compressors will put the whole plant out of action, and, since they are most difficult to replace, the compressor house would be a very profitable aiming point. A hit here may cause damage out of all proportion to the size of the bomb.
"The plant lies on the northern bank of the Emscher Kanal, which at this point runs parallel and very close to the Rhein-Herne Kanal.
"The main town of Gelsenkirchen is on the south bank, but to the west of the target is an industrial residential area."
[A description of the landmarks by which the target can be found is then given and the suggested lines of approach indicated.]
"Get right up to your target and do your stuff.
"Note carefully and report the position of any outstanding landmarks for future reference, also the position of ﬂak and searchlights. There is a strong concentration of lights reported just north of the town.
"The cameras are on aircraft, letters A, B, C, D. Get us some good pictures.
"The leaﬂets are on aircraft, letters Z, Y, X, W, V, U, and are to be dropped in the target area."
The approach to the target is suggested but not laid down in a hard and fast manner. Captains of bombing aircraft are allowed considerable latitude in the choice of routes to the target, once the area in which it is located has been entered. This is natural, for it is impossible to foresee the exact circumstances in which they will be called upon to make the attack.
Particulars are then given, based on the "opposition map," of what enemy defences may probably be encountered. These are of three kinds: night fighters, anti-aircraft guns (ﬂak) and balloon barrages. The crews are shown on a map the area in which the night fighters operate, the places where they have already been encountered and the position of balloon barrages.
The navigators, who are also the bomb-aimers, are then issued with target maps. These are all that they take with them to help them identify their targets. The maps are simplified to the greatest possible degree and are printed in various colours which represent respectively woods, built-up areas, water and other easily distinguishable features. The target itself is clearly marked in red or orange. Photographs of the target are also shown to the crews and enlargements may be thrown on a screen by means of a projector.
Then the met. officer takes up the tale.
After he has finished the armaments officer delivers a short disquisition on the nature of the bombs carried and their fusing.
The briefing may last as long as three-quarters of an hour; but usually it is shorter. The atmosphere in which it is conducted resembles nothing so much as a lecture at a university, though the attention paid by the audience would certainly ﬂatter most lecturing dons. Everything is very matter-of-fact. There is no straining after effect. The information is imparted clearly, briefly and without embellishment. Questions are answered in the same way. The object, aimed at and achieved, is to leave no member of a crew with the excuse that he did not know that a certain procedure was to be employed or a certain course to be avoided.
After the briefing, the captains of the aircraft detailed will spend some time with their navigators working out the best course to and from the targets within the limits set. The captains will then check over the aircraft with the ground crews to make sure that everything is working. The aircraft has been previously taken off and ﬂown round the aerodrome for about half an hour. The instruments which have to be most carefully watched are the electrical and hydraulic. A defect, for example, in the inter-communication system makes it impossible for the captain to communicate his orders to the crew and, though in other respects the aircraft may be perfectly serviceable, it is useless for operational purposes.
The crews then have a meal, after which they put on their ﬂying clothes. These are of great variety, and are worn over their uniform. The issue of ﬂying uniform cut to much the same pattern as the Army battledress is becoming more general. Over this a sweater may be worn and then the Irvine jacket, which contains the "Mae West." This can be inﬂated instantly on reaching the water. On the feet silk socks are worn and over them woollen stockings and ﬂying boots lined with lamb’s wool. The flying helmet contains the oxygen mask with a tube that can be plugged into the oxygen supply. It is not usual for the crew to wear their parachutes, but to keep them handy clipped to hooks near their stations. The pilot, however, usually sits on his. Just before leaving, the crew have each been issued with a paper bag containing the rations for the ﬂight. These vary according to what is obtainable: the ideal ration consists of a few biscuits, an apple or an orange, a bar of chocolate, some barley sugar, chewing gum, and raisins. Each member of the crew also carries a thermos ﬂask of hot tea or coffee. The crews are conveyed to their aircraft, dispersed round the aerodrome, in a lorry. On reaching it they get aboard the aircraft. Let us go with them.
Though the bomber has looked huge enough on the aerodrome in its coat of dull black paint enlivened only by the code letters painted on it and by some fanciful device chosen by the squadron or by the individual captain - a bent bow with the arrow against the string, a large portrait of "Jane" of picture paper fame, a bird with spread wings, a kangaroo on a cloud - inside there is very little space. The air-gunner crawls into his turret and closes the door. The wireless operator goes to his cabin and the navigator to his, the pilot and the second pilot to their controls. If you are to walk up the fuselage, you must bend your head. There are guy ropes to hold on to.
"Hullo Parsnip (code name of the station), Hullo Parsnip, E for Edward calling, E for Edward calling, are you receiving me, are you receiving me? Over to you, over."
If all is well the Watch Office will reply: "Parsnip answering E for Edward, Parsnip answering E for Edward, I am receiving you loud and clear, I am receiving you loud and clear, strength niner (nine)." It will be observed that all signals are repeated sentence by sentence to be sure that they should be properly understood.
The aircraft are sent off at short intervals of between two and five minutes. The signal to take off is made to them by those in charge of the flare path who flash a green or red light indicating whether the aircraft should, or should not, begin its run. During the periods of take-off and landing, an ambulance and a fire tender stand beside the Watch Office ready for emergencies.
On receiving the signal to take off, the pilot opens up his engines. He may keep his brakes on to lift the tail before starting the run. The Whitleys when fully loaded weigh about 16 tons and require about 1,000 yards run to take off. The Stirlings, Halifaxes and Manchesters weigh much more, but take about the same amount of run. The pilot has his wing flaps slightly lowered. As soon as the aircraft is airborne, the wheels and flaps come up. On reaching 1,000 feet, course is set for the objective. If the wind is favourable, the aircraft flies straight from the take-off on to its course. If not, it will circle the aerodrome. The captain has to make quite sure that his aircraft is setting off dead on the right course from the start; consequently the first words spoken on the "inter-com" are usually by the navigator. He will say: "Hullo pilot, the course is X°." As soon as the pilot has turned the aircraft on to that course, he reports: "Hullo navigator, on course." After that there is generally silence except for the navigator. He may ask the pilot questions in order to check the height and speed of the aircraft during its run to the coast.
On reaching the coast, the navigator pin-points his position and, if the aircraft is slightly off course, he gives the necessary directions to bring it dead on course again. As soon as the coast is left behind, the pilot begins to gain height and will say to the crew: "I am going up now to X feet, speed so and so." Once the course is set, the navigator is left in peace as much as possible to carry on his difficult task. As has already been said, he will work out the course by means of the stars and also by a form of wireless directional aid which can be used while keeping wireless silence.
Over the sea the bombs are made "live."
Inside the aircraft there is darkness. If the crew wish to see, they use hand torches suitably dimmed. The wireless operator has an amber light to enable him to make his entries in the log which he must keep. The captain can often be heard giving the order: "Keep your lights down."
Now come back along the fuselage to see what the rear gunner is doing. He has settled down in his seat; his parachute is hung up behind him; he has locked the turret doors. The turret is power-operated and swings easily in any direction. First he tests it, moving it to and fro by pressing on a pair of handles rather like bicycle handles. He loads and cocks the guns. This done he switches over his "inter-com" and reports to the captain that everything is working.
"The striking thing about a tail turret is the sense of detachment it gives you" - it is a rear-gunner speaking - "You're out beyond the tail of the plane and you can see nothing at all of the aircraft unless you turn sideways. It has all the effects of being suspended in space. It sounds, perhaps, a little terrifying, but actually it is fascinating. The effect it has on me is to make me feel that I am in a different machine from the others. I hear their voices; I know that they are there at the other end of the aircraft, but I feel remote and alone. Running my own little show, I like to sense that they are able to run theirs feeling that they needn't worry about attack from the rear. Some gunners have told me that this sense of isolation weighed heavily on them at first, but I have spent a lot of time occupied with solitary pursuits and it has never irked me, personally.
"We must keep a good look-out, you and I, in our rear turret to-night, for, in the last month or so, the enemy fighters have been more active by night; and quite a few of our gunners have been engaged. Previous to that we had, unfortunately, not had much opportunity of using our guns, except during the period of the fighting in France, when we got quite a lot of good ground targets at low altitudes. I remember with peculiar satisfaction a long white road in Northern France, a full moon and a German lorry column, a particularly desirable combination, I may say so. But from a gunnery point of view our outings have often been, as Dr. Johnson said of second marriage, 'the triumph of hope over experience.' Now we are rising slowly over the familiar, darkened landmarks below. A pause, and we have crossed the coast and we ask the captain's permission to fire a burst into the sea, just to make assurance doubly sure as regards the serviceability of our guns. Out at sea, away on my beam, I suddenly see another aircraft, a twin-engined plane flying parallel to us. It is a long way off. Can it be a Messerschmitt 110? I report to the captain and keep it in view, but as it swings in I recognise the high familiar tail of the Wellington. Soon it has disappeared again in the darkness. 'Good hunting'." Generally speaking, crews do not talk very much over the "inter-com." They are too much occupied. Besides, they wish to conserve oxygen as much as possible. The oxygen is turned on when the aircraft has crossed the enemy's coast.
The aircraft is now over the Dutch coast, perhaps above a bank of clouds. If these are thick, the navigator will find his course by the stars or by the burst of ﬂak; if the night is clear, by the water landmarks of Holland which cannot be disguised. As the aircraft draws nearer to the target, more ﬂak becomes visible. It is of all kinds. From high up it may look like the red eyes of beasts winking from the darkness of their lairs. Then, when the shells burst close at hand, they seem like great ﬂakes and balls of fire. In the early days strings of red balls, the old-fashioned ﬂaming onions, which now seem out of favour with the Germans, would come up, seemingly quite slowly.
A gliding attack tends to confuse the defences, whose sound locators cannot pick up the aircraft. When making it the pilot announces his height every 200 feet. When about to turn in for the run the pilot will say, "Opening bomb doors." This is done hydraulically. As soon as they are open the navigator takes charge. He brings the aircraft on to the target by instructing the pilot how to steer. If he wishes him to turn to the left he will say "Left, left," repeating the word. If, however, he wishes him to go to the right he will say "Right" once only. The reason for this is that there is often a considerable amount of crackling on the "inter-com" which makes it difficult to distinguish the exact words spoken. If he hears two words, the pilot knows that they must be Left, left; if only one word that it must be Right, and he alters course accordingly.
Now the aircraft has turned for home. There are still ﬂak and searchlights to be encountered. The Germans appear to use a master searchlight on which clusters of others concentrate. Even when they find an aircraft it does not necessarily mean that their anti-aircraft fire will score a hit.
Wireless silence is maintained as far as possible throughout the trip. If, however, the navigator does not know where he is, he may ask for a "fix." To obtain it the wireless operator sends out a series of dots and dashes after having given the code letters of the aircraft. He then waits until he receives a reply from England. The moment their position is given, the navigator plots a new course. If he is within a certain distance of the English coast he can, if he so desires, obtain a direct magnetic bearing from his base.
Next door to the Operations Room at a Station is the Wireless Room, where a constant watch is kept. A wireless operator is always listening in on the frequencies allotted to the Station. Once near the home aerodrome, the wireless telephone comes into play and the aircraft is brought to land by the voice from the Watch Office. A bomber pilot is trained in blind ﬂying and in the art of landing along the Lorenz beam. A simple system of sound signals enables him to know exactly where he is, whether he can see the ground or not. The signals change as he gets nearer the aerodrome. Pilots carrying out this training, which is done with great regularity daily, are appropriately described as on the BAT ﬂight, these letters standing for Blind Approach Training. Often in cloudy weather the pilot will ask for the barometrical pressure above the base to enable him to set his barometer and thus to know with very great accuracy what his height is above the surface of the earth.
Meanwhile the staff of the Operations Rooms at the Stations, at the Groups and at Headquarters, Bomber Command, have been waiting through the night. They plot results as they come in. These are recorded on boards in different coloured chalks or on charts by means of labels. Sometimes fog may descend on a base while the aircraft from it are still out on their sortie. Signals must then be sent, diverting them to another base where the weather is clear.
Should an aircraft be in distress, the life-saving service is warned and, if it comes down in the sea, the launches of the R.A.F. and, if necessary, the local lifeboat go at once to the rescue. The crews are provided with a rubber dinghy inflated automatically which can be shot out of the aircraft. They wear a yellow covering to their flying helmets which in daytime makes it easy to spot them from a height.
When the crews have landed they are taken in lorries from the dispersal point to the Briefing Room or to the Operations Room - the procedure varies with stations - where they are interrogated by an intelligence officer who has been present at the briefing and taken part in it. To ensure a certain uniformity in the reports, intelligence officers make use of a questionnaire.
Then, the dawn very near, they go to breakfast and so to bed.
The Germans have frequently accused us of being the first to bomb civilians. Hitler's famous patience under this form of assault became exhausted at the end of August, 1940. "We have watched these raids patiently," he said on 1st September, "and now the German bombers will answer over British towns night by night." We did not begin to bomb Germany until 11th May, 1940, two days after the Germans had dropped bombs on the mainland of this country. (They had already killed a civilian on 16th March.) These are the facts; but the accusation becomes even more absurd when the fate of Warsaw and Rotterdam is remembered. When the chances of retaliation were nil or small the enemy did not scruple to slaughter helpless men, women and children by the thousand. The numbers killed in Warsaw and in Rotterdam were not fewer than 30,000 in each city. They have repeated these tactics at Belgrade.
There were reasons why German military and industrial targets were not attacked immediately on the outbreak of war. It should, however, be realised that the attack was practicable. We knew what the objectives were, and where they were to be found. Schemes for the destruction of vital assets in Germany had been worked out with the advice of the best experts available.
Our strategical bomber force had been designed to strike at the war industries of Germany, mainly in the Ruhr, where 75-80 per cent. of them are situated. The general plan was to use the bombers of the Royal Air Force to aid the Royal Navy in imposing and maintaining a strict blockade of Germany. His Majesty's ships and vessels were to drive German shipping from the seas and to deny all imports to the enemy. Bomber Command was to leap across the protective barrier of his armies and strike him at vital centres, so as to destroy his factories and oil refineries, and to disrupt his communications - in a word, to dislocate and bring to ruin his military economy.
The attack upon German industry upon which so much depends falls into three phases. The first lasted from 11th May to 18th June, and covered the period which ended with the Franco-German armistice. The second lasted from that date until the night of 3rd/4th December, 1940, when Düsseldorf was raided for the first time in force. The third began on that night and is still in progress with a momentum which gathers weight and speed as it goes along.
During the first phase, such of our bombers as were not employed in giving close support to the French and British armies in the field by bombing targets close behind the German lines of advance attacked communications farther back, mostly those leading from the Ruhr to Belgium and Holland, and targets in the Ruhr itself and in Bremen and Hamburg. The first attack of importance took place on the night of 15th/16th May, when 93 heavy bombers, a considerable force for those days, bombed a large number of objectives in the Ruhr. These included railway junctions and marshalling yards, of which seven were bombed, oil plants, among them those at Duisburg, and blast furnaces at Duisburg. For the first time in this war the hot glow of ﬁres and the jagged ﬂashes of exploding bombs coloured the darkness which shrouded the chief industrial area of Germany. It was the beginning.
Throughout the week ending on 22nd May the attacks were continued, the oil storage plants at Hamburg and Bremen being fired on the night of 17th/18th. Some of these ﬁres were still burning twenty-four hours later. On the next night similar damage was inflicted on the oil refineries at Misburg, near Hanover. On 21st/22nd May a small force of Hampdens scored five direct hits on trains, seven on stations, and eleven on the permanent way of railways in the West Rhineland. On the next night two more trains were hit and two blown up in the same area. Throughout the rest of May and up till 18th/19th June the same kind of targets were bombed by forces varying in size, their strength being determined by the number of heavy bombers needed to attack objectives closer to the German armies now pressing on to their victory in France. The most successful attack was that of 27th/28th May on blast furnaces and oil refineries. The programme was continued from 1st to 18th June, oil targets at Hamburg and Bremen receiving damage on two nights in the first week of that month.
The collapse of France created a situation in which Bomber Command found itself responsible almost overnight for most of such offensive operations as were possible against the enemy. Coastal Command was playing its part, but much of it had in the nature of things to be of a defensive character - the spotting of enemy submarines, the protection of convoys, the unceasing patrol of our coasts. Fighter Command was re-organising. It was shortly to overthrow the Luftwaffe in a fierce struggle soon to be known as the Battle of Britain.
Bomber Command at once addressed itself
to the task of hitting the
enemy in as many joints in his economic harness as it could reach. The
programme of the Second Phase, which began on 18th June and ended on
5th December, 1940, was not unambitious, considering the strength that
was available. Four main types of targets were chosen; aircraft
factories, factories making aluminium, oil-producing plants and
communications. Factories producing aircraft were obviously of
immediate and growing importance as the German air attack on this
country developed. A start was therefore made by bombing the Focke-Wulf
aircraft works at Bremen on 22nd and 26th June, and on six nights in
July. At the same time Deichshausen, where the Ju.52 is made, was
bombed twice in June and three times in July, while Gotha, one of the
homes of the Messerschmitt 110, and Kassel, where there are important
aircraft works, were attacked seven times during those two months.
Other aircraft of the same Command bombed aluminium works during June,
July and August, the most important targets being those at Cologne,
Rheinfelden, Bitterfeld and later on those at Lünen, Ludwigshafen and
Hitting the War Industries
These attacks were designed to reduce the strength of the German Air Force and thus to relieve the heavy pressure put on Fighter Command during that summer when the Battle of Britain was being fought. For a time it was hoped that the bombing of aluminium plants would cause such a shortage that German aircraft production would be seriously affected. As soon as France was overrun, however, Germany at once acquired stocks of bauxite which added appreciably to her supplies of the raw materials necessary to maintain her level of aluminium production. The most successful attack on an aluminium plant was that delivered at Rheinfelden on 19th August, when a large number of direct hits were scored on a new factory about to begin production. Repairs took about four months and the plant was not in production until December.
While attacking aircraft and aluminium factories, oil targets were not neglected. Here the problem was more difficult. Oil-producing plants are very well hidden in Germany. Some of them are situated in the heart of that country, too far away to be bombed during the short nights of summer. The main targets attacked during June, July, August and September last were at Gelsenkirchen, Leuna, Misburg near Hanover, Emmerich, and Pölitz near Stettin. The most successful results were those achieved at Emmerich and Misburg. The oil refineries at Emmerich were bombed on 5th July and on the 1st and 3rd August. It is known that production virtually ceased for some time. The attacks on Misburg delivered on 20th May and 19th and 27th June and the subsequent attack on 1st August, made to interfere with the work of repair, put the refinery out of commission for some considerable time, possibly for as long as six months. Damage of a more or less serious nature is known to have been inflicted at Gelsenkirchen, attacked twenty-eight times between 27th May and 2nd December, at Leuna, bombed ten times between 17th August and 19th November, and at Pölitz, raided twice in September, three times in October and once in November. With this kind of target much depends upon where the bombs fall. A well-aimed or a lucky shot may cause a breakdown, which may last for a considerable time, while a heavier attack, in which vital points escape damage, may only cause temporary dislocation.
The fourth class of target was the
enemy's system of
the Ruhr and Rhineland. This is very elaborate, and includes canals,
roads and railways. To disrupt these or at any rate to cause congestion
is to strike an effective blow. Of inland water transport, one target
was pre-eminent; the Dortmund-Ems Canal. This waterway connects the
industrial area of the Ruhr with North-Western Germany and runs into
the sea at Emden. Through its placid waters moves a continuous line of
barges carrying the products of heavy industry. To block it is to
impose a large additional burden on railways already severely strained.
Various parts of the canal, its docks and lock gates in particular,
were attacked sixteen times between May and November.
Cutting the Canals
At one point it is especially vulnerable. North of Münster two aqueducts, one on four, the other on two, arches carry the canal across the River Ems. The width of each channel is only a hundred feet at water level. To destroy both aqueducts meant cutting the canal entirely, while the destruction of one would greatly reduce the volume of traffic passing through it. Several attacks were made with varying success. By 29th July it was known that the new branch had been considerably damaged. The photograph taken on that day shows the lock gates to be closed, a section of the canal to be dry and repair barges to be cast up on the bank. The damage can be seen at the end of the arrows numbered 5 and 6. On the night of 12th/13th August a determined attempt to blow up the aqueduct carrying the old branch of the canal was made by five Hampdens carrying a special type of explosive charge. It was a night of half moon which gave sufficient light in which to see the target. The Hampdens carefully timed their attack so as to drop the special charge at intervals of exactly two minutes, beginning at 1.30 a.m. The aqueduct was heavily protected by anti-aircraft guns disposed so as to form a lane down which an attacking aircraft must ﬂy, if it was to reach the target.
It was, however, decided to attack from a very low level in order to make certain that the aqueduct would be hit. One by one the Hampdens went in from the north, the moon shining in the faces of their crews and throwing the objective into relief. The first aircraft was hit and the wireless operator on board wounded; the second was hit and destroyed. The third was set on fire but, before the aircraft became uncontrollable, the pilot succeeded in gaining enough height to enable the crew and himself to bale out. They did so and were made prisoners. The fourth Hampden was hit in three places but got back to base. The fifth and last went down the anti-aircraft lane at two hundred feet. "After a moment," said the pilot, "three big holes appeared in the starboard wing. They were firing at point-blank range. The navigator continued to direct me on to the target. I could not see it because I was blinded by the glare of the searchlights and had to keep my head below the level of the cockpit top. At last I heard the navigator say 'Bombs gone'; I immediately did a steep turn to the right and got away, being fired at heavily for five minutes. The carrier pigeon we carried laid an egg during the attack." Besides the holes in the wing, the hydraulic system was shot away so that neither flaps nor under-carriage would work. Realising this, the pilot on reaching his base flew round and round till it was light enough to see the ground and to make a landing. This he accomplished safely. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The German railway system is complicated, though very efficient; but its elaboration lays it open to a successful attack. It is especially elaborate in the district of the Ruhr, which is the most important industrial area in Germany. It is there that many of her largest steel and iron works are situated. There, too, eighty-four per cent. of her coal is produced. The German railway system east of the Rhine is designed to meet the needs of the Ruhr. To handle the large number of trucks carrying the products there produced and switch them as rapidly as possible to their destination Germany relies on the marshalling yard. Of these the biggest and best is the yard at Hamm.
It stands at the north-east corner of the Ruhr and with Osnabrück, Soest and Schwerte regulates nearly all the rail traffic movement between the Ruhr and Central and Eastern Germany. Its daily capacity is 10,000 wagons. Hamm was first attacked on the night of 1st/2nd June, 1940. Between that date and 12th/13th June, 1941, it has been raided between eighty and ninety times, though a considerable number of those attacks were only on a small scale.
Marshalling yards are peculiarly sensitive to air attack, especially at night, since it is then that much sorting is done and signal lights are essential. Work must stop or be greatly reduced during a raid, and the delay upsets the traffic schedules and causes congestion. This at once reacts in all directions along the various lines leading to the yard, and the further series of congestions so caused have in their turn similar reactions, with the result that the dislocation is cumulative and widespread. This is what is frequently happening in Germany. Reports of travelling difficulties are too numerous and too circumstantial to be ignored. Ordinary passenger trains run most erratically, and the trials of those on board them are increased by the regulation that trains are not to stop in an area where an air raid alarm has been sounded. Passengers on the platform see the local stop-at-every-station thunder through; those in the train find themselves miles past their destination. Journeys take a very long lime. Persons attending the Leipzig Fair took five days to return from it to Portugal instead of the normal day and a half. Travellers from Berlin to Cologne and Basle in October last had to change twelve times.
One other class of target was attacked during this phase. In September incendiary leaves were showered on the Black, the Thüringen and Grunewald forests and on the wooded slopes of the Harz mountains where military stores were believed to be concealed. Their presence was confirmed by numerous explosions indicating that ammunition dumps had been set on fire. Some of the leaves were picked up by souvenir hunters who put them in their trousers pockets where they burst into ﬂame. These snappers up of what were doubtless thought to be unconsidered trifles were severely taken to task by the Neue Frankfurter Zeitung.
The first town affected was Düsseldorf, bombed on 4th/5th December and again on 7th/8th. Next came the raid on Mannheim of 16th/17th, repeated on a smaller scale on the next night and on the night of 20th/21st. Though a larger weight of bombs has since been dropped in one night than it was possible at that time to drop in three nights, the results achieved in these attacks have been among the most successful of the bombing campaign. During the first raid on Mannheim a bomb severed the main leading from the water tower. This seriously hampered the work of the fire-fighting services. What was more important was that the marshalling yards were brought to a standstill by the failure of the water supply and of the electric current. The braking machinery in the yards is operated hydraulically, the points electrically. This meant that a wagon which normally takes eight and a half hours to pass through the yard took about seven days. When working to capacity, as they were at the time, seven thousand wagons are dealt with every twenty-four hours by the yards at Mannheim. The congestion caused by the breakdown was therefore very great. The yards at Basle, a hundred and sixty miles away, became blocked. Coal in transit from the Ruhr to Italy had to be diverted as it could not be unloaded at Mannheim. This process took so long that Italy lost 100,000 tons of coal during last winter. Traffic did not become normal once more until March, 1941.
Bremen was heavily attacked on 1st/2nd January and on 3rd/4th January, 1941, and these attacks were closely followed by the two successive raids on Wilhelmshaven on 15th and 16th January. Photographs show a close concentration of bombs on the target area, which suffered severely. Next comes the raid on Hanover of 10th/11th February, the heaviest up to that time then made in any one night. The Germans themselves, through the mouth of the city’s mayor, admitted very heavy damage. Kiel has probably suffered more than any other place in Germany, though Hamburg runs it close. The heaviest raids on Kiel were on the nights of 7th/8th and 8th/9th April, when 63,600 incendiaries as well as many tons of high explosive bombs of all sizes, including an entirely new type of bomb, fell on the harbour and shipyard districts. The devastation was very great.
The attacks on Cologne, spasmodic in 1940, were intensified at the beginning of 1941. There were 24 up to 31st May, the most successful being those on 1st/2nd and 3rd/4th March. Of the raids on Berlin during this period the heaviest was on the night of 17th/18th April, 1941. On that occasion a large fire was caused by the new bomb. The first time this bomb was used was on the night of 31st March/1st April and the target was the shipyards at Emden. When it exploded, "masses of debris," said the official communiqué, "flying through the air were outlined against the glow of fires and the results appeared to be devastating." "Houses took to the air," said the pilot who dropped it.
Why are so many objectives in Germany attacked several nights running is a question frequently asked, especially when it is reported that the attack has been severe. The answer is: because they are so large. Marshalling yards, docks, shipbuilding yards, aircraft factories and other military objectives cover as a rule so wide an area that it is not possible to put them out of action in any one attack. In all such areas there is a large amount of space on which a bomb can fall and do no damage. The weight of bombs the Royal Air Force has been able to drop on them during any one night has not been heavy enough - so far. They have had to be dealt with piecemeal. Those who in the last war saw an artillery barrage put down on a village or a built-up area will know why. To destroy such a target completely, a shell every yard was necessary. While the modern bomb is heavier and the number needed to effect the same purpose is not, therefore, so large, it is still very large indeed. One example will suffice. The Germans had to put over an enormous force of bombers in order to obliterate a part only of Rotterdam. There are other reasons for visiting the same targets frequently. Constant bombing interferes with the work of repair and may prevent it. The workers engaged on war production are subjected to constant strain which slows down their output and encourages them to desert, if they can, an occupation become so dangerous.
By 18th June, 1941, 1,666 attacks by six aircraft or more had been made on German territory.
The attacks are increasing in severity. Between 15th June and 12th July, 1941, aircraft of Bomber Command were over Germany on twenty-six out of twenty-eight nights. They ranged the length and breadth of the industrial areas, from Kiel to Frankfurt-on-Main, from Aachen to Magdeburg. Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Emden, Kiel, Münster, Osnabrück, Duisburg - these names recur again and again in the communiqués.XV - Target Area:
A detailed description of the work and the problems of a photographic interpreter would be out of place here; but some of the factors which affect them can be understood by reference to the pictures on these pages. The first shows bomb damage in the centre of Aachen, where incendiaries have caused fires which have destroyed the roofs of many buildings. In such cases large-scale vertical photographs reveal what remains of the buildings as stark skeletons composed of uncovered walls and naked supports; but the bursting of high explosive bombs in streets or in houses can create immense damage to the roadway and facade of the buildings, while leaving the roofs themselves more or less intact. The pictures here compare photographs taken on the ground, showing this type of damage in two streets in Berlin, with vertical air views of these same streets. The long shadows caused by the houses in the narrow streets preclude detailed interpretation, by any but an expert, of the damage which does in fact exist; and this should be borne in mind when inspecting the air photographs published in the Press.
Special sections of the Intelligence Services of the Air Ministry and of Bomber Command interpret the photographs taken. They are part of the body of evidence collected about each target and each raid. The Air Ministry gathers together reports from all quarters and sifts them very carefully, passing on only the most reliable to Intelligence, Bomber Command. There they are compared with the reports on the operations, to discover whether the evidence fits together and forms an intelligible pattern. The object of both services is to provide the Air Staff and the A.O.C. in C. Bomber Command with as much information as can be collected on the damage to a particular target and on the accuracy of the bombing. They also draw up reports of damage which are sent to the squadrons engaged in attacking the enemy so that these may know from time to time, as and when reliable information becomes available, what they accomplished in a particular raid.
Every now and again in the long, continuous process of checking reports details come to light which, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fallen suddenly into place, reveal something unexpected and unsuspected. In March of this year, for instance, a report was received stating that early in that month the night express from The Hague to Berlin had received a direct hit when in motion and that heavy casualties had been caused. It so happened that on one night, and on one night only, in that month, a solitary Hampden, groping its way back in thick weather from Berlin where it had failed to find its primary target, dropped its bombs on a railway junction. The time and place of this attack were, of course, given in its report. The stations through which the express had passed that night were ascertained and it was found to have been due at that particular junction at the precise moment at which the Hampden had dropped its bombs.
Again, it was learnt that on the morning of 17th March the "Bremen" had been on fire for some time and was practically burnt out. Four nights before a Hampden reported that it had dropped bombs, one of them a heavy one, on the Bremerhaven docks, but that it had been unable to observe the results. Here the evidence that it had hit the "Bremen" is not conclusive, but it is certainly very strong.
These examples may serve to show how the
system adopted for the
assessment of damage works. On the whole it may be said that it makes
for conservative conclusions. The damage is under- and not
over-estimated. The fact that much of the material destruction caused
is not permanent and can be repaired in a period of time must ever be
borne in mind. The Germans are at least our equals, possibly our
superiors, in repair work. Nevertheless, it would be as absurd to
conclude that the material consequences of all these raids are small as
it would be to pretend that they have already had a decisive effect.
Naval Bases Hit
To come to greater detail, let us examine, in the first place, the damage done in the big seaport towns and naval bases of Germany - Kiel, Wilhelmshaven, Emden, Bremen and Hamburg. These have been attacked not only because of their intrinsic importance but also as part of the Battle of the Atlantic.
At Kiel, between 17th and 24th July, 1940, the power plant and gas works were put out of operation and two shipyards badly damaged. This damage was increased during the next month, particularly on the night of 10th/11th September. Much of this was probably repaired during the winter, but serious damage occurred in March, 1941, when in one week a large area in the Kohlen and Holstein Streets was completely gutted. Photographs taken after the heavy attack on the night of 7th/8th April reveal severe damage to the great shipbuilding yards of the Deutsche Werke, where a wide area was completely demolished. The Germania shipbuilding yard was also damaged. Much of the destruction caused in this raid was due to the new type of bomb now in increasing use. Dislocation of the public services also hampered the production of submarines.
At Wilhelmshaven three naval barracks were destroyed and many casualties caused between 29th January and 4th February, 1941. Damage in the area of the Bauhafen, in which naval workshops and stores are situated, has been severe. Many bombs have fallen on them.
Emden was the first place in Germany to receive our new bombs. On the night of 31st March/1st April, 1941, two were dropped. One fell in the east part of the town near the Post Office and Telephone Exchange, causing severe dislocation to these services. The other fell in the old part of the town, causing impressive damage. After this attack the German High Command for the first time admitted that severe damage had been done - proof enough that these new bombs were effective.
At Bremen the main damage has been in the Focke-Wulf aircraft factories, in the oil plants, and in the docks. After the raid of 11th/12th September, 1940, the fires in these burned for more than two days. By 21st January, 1941, slips at the Atlas shipbuilding yards facing No. 1 Basin had been rendered useless, and nearby storage depots had been burnt out. This caused a complete stoppage in these yards for some time. By 18th February the damage caused by raids during that month was so great that special squads of fire fighters had to be brought from Hamburg to cope with the situation. In these raids it is estimated that casualties amounted to over 1,000 killed and many thousands injured. Between 5th and 11th March the Neptune Yard, a well-known shipbuilding works, was severely damaged, and photographs taken between 25th and 31st March show much damage to all shipbuilding yards and to the main railway station. The slipways of the Vegesack shipbuilding yard, for example, where submarines are built, were so damaged that repairs were still being carried out in the middle of June. Earlier in the year the liner "Europa" was reported to be damaged, and two ships loaded with iron and steel to have received hits and been sunk.
But by May the damage to the city, apart from the harbour area, was severe. The Law Courts, the Stock Exchange, the head offices of the Hamburg-American Line and the business centre of the city all bore marks of the activities of Bomber Command. It must not be forgotten that the city and port of Hamburg is one of the largest in Europe. Though the damage is impressive - only the main items are here given - there are still a large number of military and industrial targets to be destroyed.
To leave the coast of Germany and move inland: Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hanover and Mannheim have all been considerably damaged. In Cologne the damage caused by fire in the early March, 1941, raids was considerable, for the water mains were hit and the work of fire-fighting hampered. The Deutz Engineering VVorks suffered damage, the city's power station was burnt out and ten million marks' worth of goods destroyed in the Bonntor goods yard. In later raids the main station and the Hohenzollern Bridge, which carries all passenger traffic from the main station to the east, were hit, buildings close to the main station received some damage, the harbour area suffered heavily, and the main lines to Bonn, Aachen and Düsseldorf were damaged.
In Düsseldorf, by the end of June, 1940, a steel works had been completely destroyed, with heavy casualties, and almost a whole district had been burnt to the ground. The fires caused by the raid on the night of 15th/ 16th June burnt for twenty-four hours. Last winter heavy damage and casualties occurred on the night of 7th/8th December. On the night of 22nd/23rd January, 1941, the main station was hit and damaged, together with a silk factory. By the end of March the research department of one of the largest factories had been destroyed, together with a big patent food factory, a paper mill, and a large number of warehouses.
Hanover has suffered severely. The railway station was damaged early in May, 1940. By the first week in July the main motor factory stopped work for some time because of severe damage. The chief naphtha plant was also seriously damaged. By 10th February, 1941, the main passenger railway station could not be used and remained out of action for some time. The Continental Gummiwerke, Germany's largest rubber factory, a vital target, had been severely damaged. Two of the largest buildings had lost their roofs. The effect of the attacks on the Misburg oil refinery near Hanover has already been described.
Münster, an important railway junction, was bombed five nights running from 6th to 10th July, 1941. It was twice set on fire from end to end and the Germans called it "the unhappy town." For once they do not appear to have exaggerated. The port area on either side of the Dortmund-Ems Canal has been destroyed, the only factory of importance wiped out, and the barracks - Münster is a garrison town - heavily damaged. The crew of a Wellington have good cause to remember one of the recent attacks on Münster. When on the way home it encountered and shot down an enemy fighter, which, however, set the bomber's starboard wing on fire. It was over the sea and the crew stood small chance of being picked up if they baled out. One of them, a sergeant, volunteered to climb out on to the wing and extinguish the ﬂames. He climbed out of the "Astro" hatch, kicked hand- and foot-holds in the fabric and beat out the fire with an engine cover. He had a rope round his waist when out on the wing; but had he lost his hold it would either have snapped or, helpless in the slipstream, he would have been battered against the tail fin. The Wellington reached its base safely.
One-third of the town of Aachen, bombed on 9th/10th July, 1941, is in ruins.
Finally, there is the damage wrought in Berlin.
In one of the earliest raids hits were scored on the Neukölln and the Alexanderplatz in the centre of Berlin, and these were followed by hits on the Lehrter and Anhalter stations and the Pariserplatz at the end of Unter-den-Linden. A number of factories were also damaged, and one near the Lehrter station burnt out. The Brandenburger Tor, that monument to the success of past aggressions, was also hit. By the end of October, 1940, the General Post Office had been gutted and the railway services between Berlin and Cologne severely disorganised. Throughout the month of November damage continued to be caused to railway stations, notably the Lehrter and the approaches to the Stettiner, and considerable damage had been done to Unter-den-Linden and a number of other famous streets. Road and tram traffic had been temporarily disorganised. By the middle of the month the Berlin underground railway system had been damaged near the Savigny Platz, and a munitions factory had closed down and evacuated to Posen. The Siemens works were hit in several raids. The heavy damage caused to these works, which employ thousands of workers, was one of the main topics of conversation in Berlin at that time. Before Christmas heavy damage was caused in the Weissensee district and also to power stations. In the last week of the year the arsenal in the Friedrichsplatz was blown up, and the old Royal Palace hit.
Bombs had also fallen along that superb example of Prussian bad taste, the Sieges Allee. The law courts had been hit and the windows of the Home Office broken. In January, 1941, barracks at Charlottenburg, a suburb of Berlin, were completely destroyed. In February a big departmental store in the Alexanderplatz was burnt out, and the Siemens factory once more damaged. The raid on the night of 12th/13th March was particularly effective, a goods station suffering severely, S.S. barracks in the Grosslichtenfeld being destroyed, and a chemical factory damaged beyond repair.
Though in their preparations for war the Nazi leaders did not forget air-raid precautions, the plans drawn up as far back as 1934 have proved inadequate when put to the test. There are shelters in every block of ﬂats, but the experts appear to have miscalculated the penetrating power of a heavy bomb. Deep shelters away from buildings and water mains are now being hastily constructed.
Much more damage has been done to
Germany than that which has been
brieﬂy outlined. Much more will be done before the war is over.
German Home Morale
So much for material damage. What, however, has been the effect of our raids on the morale of the Germans? The importance of this aspect of our bombing attacks on them needs no emphasis. As soon as German morale begins to wilt, victory will be in sight.
The effects of raids on civilian morale is very hard to assess. It is easy to fall into the one or the other pitfall - over-optimism or over-pessimism. One thing is certain. As yet no final result has been achieved. There are no outward signs of any break in morale, and it would be rash to prophesy the moment at which they will appear. Certain general tendencies, however, have been observed and can be set down. Their appearance and duration correspond roughly to the three phases of our attacks, of which the third is now in full development. During the first phase there was undoubtedly considerable fear amounting almost to panic in each town visited by the aircraft of Bomber Command. This gradually gave way, during the second phase, to annoyance at the general disturbance and discomfort suffered. The third and present phase, in which our attacks have assumed a more concentrated form, is producing a feeling of nervousness and apprehension at the increasing weight of the assault.
In the beginning the Germans behaved very much as we did when they first began to bomb us. It will be remembered that during that early period trains slowed down to fifteen miles an hour; buses stopped at the kerbside; most persons in business or Government offices or in the open streets went to shelters. With us this phase did not last long; in Germany it did. At first sight this is surprising, when the weight of our attack is compared with the weight of theirs. It must, however, be remembered that the Germans had been promised by Göring complete immunity from bombing attacks. No enemy aircraft, he had said, could live long in the air above German soil. When this proved to be false, the shock was all the greater. Göring's confidence in the power of the Luftwaffe and the German A.A. defences to keep the British bomber out of Germany seems to have been shared by other and less exalted authorities. Little or no provision had been made to evacuate children from the towns, and the number and quality of the shelters were very inadequate. Fortunately for the Germans the first attacks began in May, 1940, and they had, therefore, all the months of the summer with their long days and short nights in which to become accustomed to air raids.
The psychology of the German population during the second phase, when we were bombing selected targets comparatively small in size, may be compared with our own during the same period. After the first shock the people of London, Coventry and the other towns of Great Britain entered upon a mood of stubborn fortitude and stoical determination. The Germans found courage and the strength to endure from observing the nature of our attacks. Many a tribute was soon paid to the accuracy of our bombing. It was said on all sides - the reports are numerous and too circumstantial to be ignored - that the British only attacked military objectives and that anyone not living in their neighbourhood was in no danger. During the summer and autumn months of 1940, for example, the population of Hamburg so recovered their morale that, knowing our objectives were in the harbour area, some of them with the connivance of their wardens were in the habit of watching the raids from afar off.
In September, 1940, the regularity with which we flew over the Ruhr had one unforeseen effect. For some time our bombers regularly passed over that industrial district at the moment when the change-over to the night shift was taking place. All forms of transport at once came to a halt. The workers leaving the factories could not go home. Those due to start their work could not get there to do so. This state of affairs endured until the shift hours were altered. The night shift arrived on duty one hour earlier so as to make certain that they would be at work before the sirens wailed.
Between September and December, the shelter reconstruction programme that was being undertaken had not proceeded far, and with the increasing cold weather the inadequacy and discomfort of the shelters had a lowering effect on morale.
The third phase of our attack, which has lasted since the beginning of December, 1940, has quite clearly created a feeling of nervousness and apprehension among the populations of the large industrial centres of Germany. For a long time the German general public have been taught to believe in the great superiority of the Luftwaffe over the Royal Air Force, both in men and aircraft. This belief is still deeply rooted, and the ordinary German citizen is under the impression that the increased weight of our attack is due not to the expansion of the Royal Air Force, but to the numbers of American aircraft and heavy bombs which that Force is said to be using.
Morale took a downward curve after the heavy raids on Kiel on the nights of 7th/8th and 8th/9th April, 1941. Complaints began to be made about the inadequacy of the A.R.P. and fire-fighting services. A feeling of depression spread abroad over Hamburg and the citizens are still under its influence. After the second of the two heavy raids in March last which took place on the nights of 12th/13th and 13th/14th, the main railway station had to be closed, for the numbers trying to leave the city were becoming out of control.
To enumerate those places in Germany where morale is at its best or at its worst is very difficult, for the simple reason that the temper of the people rises and falls like the temperature of a fever patient. Probably the citizens of Bremen, Hamburg and Kiel show the lowest morale at this moment, while many reports describe how irritable the population of Berlin becomes through lack of sleep, even though the attack is not on a heavy scale.
To sum up - that German morale has suffered is without question, that it will go on to suffer is quite certain, that it is fast cracking under the strain is, however, not yet true. What the future holds no one can foretell. But it must not be forgotten that the attacks delivered by Bomber Command are steadily increasing in weight and severity.XVI - One Thing is Certain
Its history is the story of a force built up slowly from sound principles resolutely applied. Let there be no mistake. The policy of the Royal Air Force is a long-term policy. Long before this war began, those in authority, when faced with the rapidly growing numbers of the Luftwaffe, decided that to seek parity in mere numbers, even if this could be done quickly, was wrong and dangerous. It was a short cut not to victory but to defeat. That is why our bombers were built to fly long distances with heavy loads in almost any kind of weather. That is why they were given a heavy defensive armament. That is why their crews were trained to be self-sufficient, to rely on their own skill to get them to the target and back again, to take, as it were, their operations room, where all the thinking and planning is done, into the aircraft with them.
That day is approaching. This is not a
boast nor a vain
figures for the weight of high explosive and incendiary bombs dropped
on Germany, on German shipping, on German-occupied territory are proof
that this is so. The weight of bombs dropped during May, 1941, was more
than twice the weight dropped in May, 1940, when the attacks by Bomber
Command began, and the weight of bombs dropped in June, 1941, was half
as much again as that of the bombs dropped in the previous month.
During June, 1941, more than three and a half times the weight of bombs
were falling on the enemy than fell at the beginning of the bombing
campaign. What this means can be best understood if it is realised that
during June this year more bombs fell on Germany than were dropped on
the British Isles during April of this year, which is claimed by the
Germans to be their record month for 1941.
The figures of bombs dropped show a fairly constant rate for the summer months of 1940, rising momentarily in September by as much as eighty-four per cent., when the invasion ports were fiercely attacked, and falling through the winter months, when bad weather reduced the number of sorties, to a figure for January, 1941, below that of May, 1940. After that month the rise is steady and, since April, sharp. The daily average increase for that month as compared with the daily average of bombs dropped during all the winter months from 1st October, 1940, to 31st March, 1941, was 105 per cent. It is not necessary to add more to show the results which this policy is now producing.
The attack on the enemy continues without pause. "We shall bomb Germany by day as well as by night in ever-increasing measure," said the Prime Minister, broadcasting to the world on 22nd June. This is not a threat only, it is a statement of fact. Bomber Command is translating these words into action. Its pilots and crews do not trace at vast speed fantastic patterns in the sky as did their comrades of Fighter Command when the Battle of Britain was fought and won. They plod steadily on, taking their aircraft through fair weather or foul, night after night and of late by day, to "the abodes of the guilty." Determination and endurance are said to be among the distinguishing qualities of our race. These they possess in full measure. They are of the same breed as the men who each evening notched their dragon prows into the sun's red rim on the first voyage to Labrador, who braced the yards of the "Golden Hind" to round Cape Horn and who stumbled with Scott from the South Pole.