1939: Battle, Blenheim, Hampden, Wellesley, Wellington, Whitley.
1942: Manchester, Stirling, Halifax, Lancaster, Mosquito.
1950: Washington B.1
1955: Vickers Valiant
1956: Avro Vulcan
1958: Handley Page Victor.
Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to
1968. Along with the United States Army Air Forces, it played the
central role in the strategic bombing of Germany in World War II. From
1942 onward, the British bombing campaign against Germany became less
restrictive and increasingly targeted industrial sites and the
civilian manpower base essential for German war production. In total
364,514 operational sorties were flown, 1,030,500 tons of bombs were
dropped and 8,325 aircraft lost in action.
Bomber Command crews also
suffered a high casualty rate: 55,573 were killed out of a total of
125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in
action, and 9,838 became prisoners of war.
Bomber Command stood at the peak of its post-war military power in the
1960s, the V bombers holding the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent
and a supplemental force of Canberra light bombers.
In August 2006, a memorial was unveiled at Lincoln Cathedral. A
Green Park in London was unveiled by the Queen on 28 June
2012 to highlight the price paid by the aircrews.
2 The early years of the Second World War
4 Strategic bombing 1942–45
6 The "balance sheet"
8 Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief
9 Battle honours
11 See also
13 External links
At the time of the formation of
Bomber Command in 1936, Giulio
Douhet's slogan "the bomber will always get through" was popular, and
Stanley Baldwin cited it. Until advances in radar
technology in the late 1930s, this statement was effectively true.
Attacking bombers could not be detected early enough to assemble
fighters fast enough to prevent them reaching their targets. Some
damage might be done to the bombers by AA guns, and by fighters as the
bombers returned to base, but that was not as effective as a proper
defence. Consequently, the early conception of
Bomber Command was as
an entity that threatened the enemy with utter destruction, and thus
In 1936, Germany's increasing air power was feared by British
government planners who commonly overestimated its size, reach and
hitting power. Planners used estimates of up to 72 British deaths per
tonne of bombs dropped, though this figure was grossly exaggerated. As
well, the planners did not know that German bombing aircraft of the
day (not quite 300
Junkers Ju 52
Junkers Ju 52 medium bombers) did not have the
range to reach the UK with a load of bombs and return to the mainland.
British air officers did nothing to correct these perceptions because
they could see the usefulness of having a strong bombing arm.
The early years of the Second World War
Main article: Air warfare of World War II
At the start of the Second World War in 1939,
Bomber Command faced
four problems. The first was lack of size;
Bomber Command was not
large enough effectively to operate as an independent strategic force.
The second was rules of engagement; at the start of the war, the
targets allocated to
Bomber Command were not wide enough in scope. The
third problem was the Command's lack of technology; specifically radio
or radar derived navigational aids to allow accurate target location
at night or through cloud. (In 1938, E. G. "Taffy" Bowen proposed
using ASV radar for navigation, only to have
Bomber Command disclaim
need for it, saying the sextant was sufficient. ) The fourth
problem was the limited accuracy of bombing, especially from high
level, even when the target could be seen by the bomb aimer.
When the war began on 1 September 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
President of the neutral United States, issued an appeal to the major
belligerents to confine their air raids to military targets. The
French and British agreed to abide by the request, provided "that
these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of
their opponents". British policy was to restrict bombing to
military targets and infrastructure, such as ports and railways which
were of military importance. While acknowledging that bombing Germany
would cause civilian casualties, the British government renounced
deliberate bombing of civilian property (outside combat zones) as a
military tactic. The British abandoned this policy at the end of
the "Phoney War", or Sitzkrieg, on 15 May 1940, one day after the
Scale comparison diagram of the trio of British twin-engined medium
bombers at the outbreak of the Second World War; the Whitley (pink),
Vickers Wellington (blue) and the
Handley Page Hampden
Handley Page Hampden (yellow)
The British government did not want to violate its agreement by
attacking civilian targets outside combat zones and the French were
even more concerned lest
Bomber Command operations provoke a German
bombing attack on France. Since the
Armée de l'Air
Armée de l'Air had few modern
fighters and no defence network comparable to the British Chain Home
radar stations, this left France powerless before the threat of a
German bombing attack. The final problem was lack of adequate
Bomber Command workhorses at the start of the war, the
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Handley Page
Hampden/Hereford, had been designed as tactical-support medium bombers
and none of them had enough range or ordnance capacity for anything
more than a limited strategic offensive.
Bomber Command became even smaller after the declaration of war. No. 1
Group, with its squadrons of Fairey Battles, left for France to form
the Advanced Air Striking Force. This action had two aims: to give the
British Expeditionary Force some air-striking power and to allow the
Battles to operate against German targets, since they lacked the range
to do so from British airfields.
Phoney War mainly affected the army; to an extent,
too saw little combat during the first few months of hostilities.
Bomber Command flew many operational missions and lost aircraft but it
did virtually no damage to the Germans. Most sorties either failed to
find their targets, or were leaflet-dropping missions (the first
flights by RAF bombers over the German homeland were only to drop
propaganda leaflets at night).
In May 1940, some of the
Advanced Air Striking Force
Advanced Air Striking Force was caught on the
ground by German air attacks on their airfields at the opening of the
invasion of France. The remainder of the Battles proved to be
horrendously vulnerable to enemy fire. Many times, Battles would set
out to attack and be almost wiped out in the process. Due to French
paranoia about being attacked by German aircraft during the Phoney
War, the Battle force had actually trained over German airspace at
Rotterdam Blitz of 14 May, RAF
Bomber Command was
authorized to attack German targets east of the Rhine on 15 May; the
Air Ministry authorized
Charles Portal to attack targets
in the Ruhr, including oil plants and other civilian industrial
targets which aided the German war effort, such as blast furnaces
(which were visible at night). The first attack took place on
the night of 15/16 May, with 96 bombers setting off to attack targets
east of the Rhine, 78 of which were against oil targets. Of these,
only 24 claimed to have found their targets.
Bomber Command itself soon fully joined in the action; in the Battle
Bomber Command was assigned to bomb invasion barges and
fleets assembling in the Channel ports. This was much less public than
the battles of the Spitfires and Hurricanes of
RAF Fighter Command
RAF Fighter Command but
still vital and dangerous work. From July 1940 to the end of the year,
Bomber Command lost nearly 330 aircraft and over 1,400 aircrew killed,
missing or captured.
Bomber Command was also indirectly responsible, in part at least, for
the switch of
Luftwaffe attention away from Fighter Command to bombing
civilian targets. A German bomber on a raid got lost due to poor
navigation and bombed London. Prime Minister Winston Churchill
consequently ordered a retaliatory raid on the German capital of
Berlin. The damage caused was minor but the raid sent
Hitler into a
rage. He ordered the
Luftwaffe to level British cities, thus
precipitating the Blitz.
United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces later in the war, Bomber
Command had first concentrated on a doctrine of "precision" bombing in
daylight. When the German defences inflicted costly defeats on British
raids late 1939, a switch to night bombing was forced upon the
Command. The problems of enemy defences were then replaced with the
problems of night navigation and target-finding. It was common in the
early years of the war for bombers relying on dead reckoning
navigation to miss entire cities. Surveys of bombing photographs and
other sources published during August 1941, indicated that fewer than
one bomb in ten fell within 5 miles (8.0 km) of its intended
target. One of the most urgent problems of the Command was thus to
develop navigational aids.
Bomber Command comprised a number of Groups. It began the war with
Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Groups. No. 1 Group was soon sent to France and
then returned to
Bomber Command control after the evacuation of
France. No. 2 Group consisted of light and medium bombers who,
although operating both by day and night, remained part of Bomber
Command until 1943, when it was removed to the control of Second
Tactical Air Force, to form the light bomber component of that
Bomber Command also gained two new groups during the war: the
Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons were organised into No. 6
Group and the Pathfinder Force was expanded to form No. 8 (Pathfinder)
Group from existing squadrons.
Many squadrons and personnel from Commonwealth and other European
countries flew in
Bomber Command. No. 6 Group, which was activated on
1 January 1943, was unique among
Bomber Command groups, in that it was
not an RAF unit; it was a Canadian unit attached to
Bomber Command. At
its peak strength, 6 Group consisted of 14 operational RCAF bomber
squadrons and 15 squadrons served with the group. No. 8 Group,
also known as the Pathfinder Force, was activated on 15 August 1942.
It was a critical part of solving the navigational and aiming problems
Bomber Command solved its navigational problems using two
methods. One was the use of a range of increasingly sophisticated
electronic aids to navigation and the other was the use of specialist
Pathfinders. The technical aids to navigation took two forms. One was
external radio navigation aids, as exemplified by Gee and the later
highly accurate Oboe systems. The other was the centimetric navigation
H2S radar carried in the bombers. The Pathfinders were a
group of elite, specially trained and experienced crews who flew ahead
and with the main bombing forces and marked the targets with flares
and special marker-bombs. No. 8 Group controlled the Pathfinder
A photograph taken during a typical RAF night attack with Avro
Lancasters far below
Strategic bombing 1942–45
Main article: Strategic bombing during World War II
Diagram comparing the Stirling (yellow) with its contemporaries; the
Avro Lancaster (blue) and the
Handley Page Halifax
Handley Page Halifax (pink)
In 1941, the
Butt Report revealed the extent of bombing inaccuracy:
Churchill noted that "this is a very serious paper and seems to
require urgent attention". The
Area Bombing Directive
Area Bombing Directive of 14
February 1942, ordered
Bomber Command to target German industrial
areas and the "morale of... the industrial workers". The directive
also reversed the order of the previous year to conserve its forces
– this resulted in a large campaign of area bombardment against the
Ruhr area. Professor Frederick Lindemann's "de-housing" paper of
March, identified the expected effectiveness of attacks on residential
and general industrial areas of cities. The aerial bombing of cities
such as the
Operation Millennium raid on Cologne continued throughout
the rest of the war, culminating in the controversial bombing of
Dresden in 1945.
97 percent of
Wesel was destroyed before it was taken by Allied
In 1942, the main workhorse aircraft of the later part of the war came
into service. The Halifax and Lancaster made up the backbone of the
Command – they had a longer range, higher speed and much greater
bomb load than the earlier aircraft. The Stirling and Wellington
bombers were not taken out of service but used on less demanding tasks
such as mine-laying. The classic aircraft of the Pathfinders, the de
Havilland Mosquito, also made its appearance. By 25 July 1943, the
Bomber Command headquarters was "a substantial set of red brick
buildings, hidden in the middle of a forest on top of a hill in the
English county of Buckinghamshire."
A prolonged offensive against the Rhine-
Ruhr area (nicknamed "Happy
Valley" by aircrew) began on the night of 5/6 March 1943, with the
first raid of the Battle of the
Ruhr on Essen. The
attackers destroyed 160 acres (0.65 km2) and hit 53 Krupps
buildings. The Battle of Hamburg in mid-1943 was one of the most
successful Command operations, although Harris' extension of the
offensive into the Battle of Berlin failed to destroy the capital and
cost his force over 1,000 crews in the winter of 1943–44. In August
1943, the RAF Operation Hydra bombing of the
Peenemünde V-2 rocket
facility opened the secondary Crossbow campaign against long range
By April 1944, Harris was forced to reduce his strategic offensive as
the bomber force was directed (much to his annoyance) to tactical and
transport communications targets in France in support of the invasion
of Normandy. The transport offensive proved highly effective. By late
1944, bombing such as Operation Hurricane (to demonstrate the
capabilities of the combined British and US bomber forces), competed
against the German defences and
Bomber Command was capable of putting
1,000 aircraft over a target without extraordinary efforts. Within 24
hours of Operation Hurricane, the RAF dropped about 10,000 tonnes of
bombs on Duisburg and Brunswick, the greatest bomb load dropped in a
day during the Second World War.
The peak of
Bomber Command operations occurred in the raids of March
1945, when its squadrons dropped the greatest weight of
bombs[quantify] for any month in the war.
Wesel in the Rhineland,
bombed on 16, 17, 18 and 19 February, was bombed again on 23 March,
leaving the city "97 percent destroyed". The last raid on Berlin took
place on the night of 21/22 April, when 76 Mosquitos made six attacks
just before Soviet forces entered the city centre. Most of the rest of
the RAF bombing raids provided tactical support. The last major
strategic raid, was the destruction of the oil refinery at Vallø
(Tønsberg) in southern Norway by 107 Lancasters, on the night of
Once the surrender of Germany had occurred, plans were made to send a
"Very Long Range
Bomber Force" known as Tiger Force to participate in
the Pacific war against Japan. Made up of about 30 British
Commonwealth heavy bomber squadrons, a reduction of the original plan
of about 1,000 aircraft, to be based on Okinawa.
Bomber Command groups
were re-organised for
Operation Downfall but the Soviet invasion of
Manchuria and the
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred before
the force had been transferred to the Pacific.
Bomber Command's final operation was in flying released
Allied prisoners of war home to Britain in Operation Exodus.
A diagram illustrating the actual number of aircraft used in the 13/14
February 1945 RAF night attack on Dresden with 753 Avro Lancasters in
two waves, with nine Mosquitoes providing target marking
Allied bombing of German cities killed between 305,000 and 600,000
civilians.[note 1] One of the most controversial aspects of Bomber
Command during World War II was the area bombing of cities. Until 1942
navigational technology did not allow for any more precise targeting
than at best a district of a town or city by night bombing. All large
German cities contained important industrial districts and so were
considered legitimate targets by the Allies. New methods were
introduced to create "firestorms". The most destructive raids in terms
of casualties were those on Hamburg (45,000 dead) in 1943 and Dresden
(25,000–35,000 dead)) in 1945. Each caused a firestorm and
left tens of thousands dead. Other large raids on German cities which
resulted in high civil casualties were Darmstadt (12,300 dead),
Pforzheim (17,600 dead) and Kassel (10,000 dead).
Regarding the legality of the campaign, in an article in the
International Review of the Red Cross it was held that,
In examining these events [aerial area bombardment] in the light of
international humanitarian law, it should be borne in mind that during
the Second World War there was no agreement, treaty, convention or any
other instrument governing the protection of the civilian population
or civilian property, as the conventions then in force dealt only with
the protection of the wounded and the sick on the battlefield and in
naval warfare, hospital ships, the laws and customs of war and the
protection of prisoners of war.
Bomber Command crews also suffered an extremely high casualty rate:
55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4 percent death
rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became
prisoners of war. This covered all
Bomber Command operations including
tactical support for ground operations and mining of sea
Bomber Command crew member had a worse chance of survival than an
infantry officer in World War I; more people were killed serving in
Bomber Command than in the Blitz, or the bombings of Hamburg or
Dresden. By comparison, the US Eighth Air Force, which flew
daylight raids over Europe, had 350,000 aircrew during the war and
suffered 26,000 killed and 23,000 POWs. Of the RAF
personnel killed during the war, 72 percent were British, 18 percent
were Canadian, 7 percent were Australian and 3 percent were New
Taking an example of 100 airmen:
55 killed on operations or died as result of wounds
three injured (in varying levels of severity) on operations or active
12 taken prisoner of war (some wounded)
two shot down and evaded capture
27 survived a tour of operations
In total 364,514 operational sorties were flown, 1,030,500 tons of
bombs were dropped and 8,325 aircraft lost in action.
Harris was advised by an Operational Research Section (ORS-BC) under a
civilian, Basil Dickins, supported by a small team of mathematicians
and scientists. ORS-BC (under Reuben Smeed) was concerned with
analysing bomber losses. They were able to influence operations by
identifying successful defensive tactics and equipment, though some of
their more controversial advice (such as removing ineffectual turrets
from bombers to increase speed) was ignored.
The very high casualties suffered, give testimony to the dedication
and courage of
Bomber Command aircrew in carrying out their orders.
Statistically there was little prospect of surviving a tour of 30
operations and by 1943, one in six expected to survive their first
tour and one in forty would survive their second tour. The loss
Bomber Command operations was 2.2 percent, but loss rates
over Germany were significantly higher; from November 1943 – March
1944, losses averaged 5.1 percent. The highest loss rate (11.8
percent) was incurred on the Nuremberg raid (30 March 1944). The
disparity in loss rates was reflected in the fact that at times,
Bomber Command considered making sorties over France only count as a
third of an op towards the "tour" total and crews derisively referred
to officers who only chose to fly on the less dangerous ops to France
as "François". The loss rates excluded aircraft crashing in
the UK on return, even if the machine was a write off and there were
crew casualties, which amounted to at least another 15 percent.
Losses in training were significant and some courses lost 25 percent
of their intake before graduation, 5,327 men being killed in training
The "balance sheet"
Bomber Command had an overwhelming commitment to the strategic bombing
offensive against Germany, and it seems appropriate to judge its
contribution to the Allied war-effort primarily in that context. The
ostensible aim of the offensive, breaking the morale of the German
working class, must be considered a failure. The scale and intensity
of the offensive was an appalling trial to the German people and the
Hamburg attacks, particularly, profoundly shook the Nazi leadership.
However, on balance, the indiscriminate nature of the bombing and the
heavy civilian casualties and damage stiffened German resistance to
fight to the end. In any case as Sir Arthur Harris put it, the Germans
living under a savage tyranny were "not allowed the luxury of morale".
Sir Arthur Harris himself believed that there was a relationship
between tonnage dropped, city areas destroyed, and lost production.
The effect of
Bomber Command's attacks on industrial production is not
so clear cut. The much better provided US survey was little concerned
with the RAF area bombing campaign. It pointed to the great success of
the USAAF's attacks on Germany's synthetic oil plants starting in the
spring of 1944 – this had a crippling effect on German
transportation and prevented the
Luftwaffe from flying to anything
like the order of battle that the aviation engine plants, parts and
sub-assembly fabrication and final assembly manufacturing facilities;
Luftwaffe training and logistics could have otherwise sustained.
Further, in going for targets they knew the Germans must defend, the
new American escort fighters were able to inflict crippling losses on
the Luftwaffe's fighter force. However it should be pointed out that
the RAF also made a great contribution to the oil offensive as its
abilities to attack precision targets had greatly improved since the
arrival of new navigation and target-finding instruments; by mid-1944
it was also mounting huge bombing raids in daylight.
Albert Speer, Hitler's Minister of Armaments noted that the larger
British bombs were much more destructive. 15 years after the war's
end, Speer was unequivocal about the effect,
The real importance of the air war consisted in the fact that it
opened a second front long before the invasion in Europe ...
Defence against air attacks required the production of thousands of
anti-aircraft guns, the stockpiling of tremendous quantities of
ammunition all over the country, and holding in readiness hundreds of
thousands of soldiers, who in addition had to stay in position by
their guns, often totally inactive, for months at a time ... No
one has yet seen that this was the greatest lost battle on the German
Albert Speer (1959)
In terms of production decrease resulting from the RAF area attacks,
the US survey, based upon limited research, found that in 1943 it
amounted to 9 percent and in 1944 to 17 percent. Relying on US
gathered statistics, the British survey found that actual arms
production decreases were a mere 3 percent for 1943, and 1 percent for
1944. However they did find decreases of 46.5 percent and 39 percent
in the second half of 1943 and 1944 respectively in the metal
processing industries. These losses resulted from the devastating
series of raids the Command launched on the
Ruhr Valley. A contrasting
view was offered by
Adam Tooze (2006) that by referring to
contemporary sources rather than post-war accounts
there can be no doubt that the Battle of the
Ruhr marked a turning
point in the history of the German war economy ....
and that in the first quarter of 1943 steel production fell by 200,000
tons, leading to cuts in the German ammunition production programme
and a Zulieferungskrise (sub-components crisis). German aircraft
output did not increase between July 1943 and March 1944.
Bomber command had stopped Speer's armaments miracle in its
This apparent lack of success is accounted for in several ways. The
German industrial economy was so strong, its industrial bases so
widely spread, that it was a hopeless task to try and crush it by area
bombing. Further, up until 1943 it is undoubtedly the case that
Germany was not fully mobilised for war, Speer remarked that single
shift factory working was commonplace, and so there was plenty of
slack in the system. It has been argued that the RAF campaign placed a
limit on German arms production. This may be true but it is also the
case that the German forces did not run out of arms and ammunition and
that it was manpower that was a key limiting factor, as well as the
destruction of transport facilities and the fuel to move.
Some positive points should be made. The greatest contribution to
winning the war made by
Bomber Command was in the huge diversion of
German resources into defending the homeland; this was very
considerable indeed. By January 1943 some 1,000
fighters were committed to the defence of the Reich – mostly
Me 110 and Ju 88. Most critically, by September 1943,
8,876 of the deadly, dual purpose 88 mm guns were also defending
the homeland with a further 25,000 light flak guns –
20/37 mm. Though the
88mm gun was an effective AA weapon, it was
also a deadly destroyer of tanks, and lethal against advancing
infantry. These weapons would have done much to augment German
anti-tank defences on the Russian front.
To man these weapons the flak regiments in Germany required some
90,000 fit personnel, and a further 1 million were deployed in
clearing up and repairing the vast bomb-damage caused by the RAF
attacks. This diversion to defensive purposes of German arms and
manpower was an enormous contribution made by RAF
Bomber Command to
winning the war. By 1944 the bombing offensive was costing Germany 30
percent of all artillery production, 20 percent of heavy shells, 33
percent of the output of the optical industry for sights and aiming
devices and 50 percent of the country's electro-technical output which
had to be diverted to the anti-aircraft role. From the British
perspective it should be noted that the RAF offensive made a great
contribution in sustaining morale during the dark days of the war,
especially during the bleak winter of 1941–42. It was the only means
that Britain possessed of taking the war directly to the enemy at that
Bomber Command had 19 Victoria Cross recipients.[note 2]
Bomber Command acquired B-29 Superfortresses – known to the RAF as
Boeing Washingtons – to supplement the Avro Lincoln, a development
of the Lancaster. The first jet bomber, the English Electric Canberra
light bomber, became operational in 1951. Some Canberras remained in
RAF service up to 2006 as photo-reconnaissance aircraft. The model
proved an extremely successful aircraft; Britain exported it to many
countries and licensed it for construction in the United States
and in Australia. The joint US-UK
Project E was pushed through[by
whom?] to make nuclear weapons available to
Bomber Command in an
emergency, with the Canberras the first aircraft to benefit. The next
jet bomber to enter service was the
Vickers Valiant in 1955, the first
of the V bombers.
The Air Ministry conceived of the V bombers as the replacement for the
wartime Lancasters and Halifaxes. Three advanced aircraft were
developed from 1946, along with the
Short Sperrin fall-back design.
Multiple designs were tried out because no one could predict which
designs would be successful at the time. The V bombers became the
backbone of the British nuclear forces and comprised the Valiant,
Handley Page Victor
Handley Page Victor (in service in 1958) and Avro Vulcan
Bomber Command faced its first operational test since the
Second World War. The Egyptian Government nationalised the Suez Canal
in July 1956, and British troops took part in an invasion along with
French and Israeli forces. During the Suez Crisis, Britain deployed
Bomber Command Canberras to
Malta and Valiants to Malta.
The Canberra performed well but the Valiant had problems, since it had
only just been introduced into service. The Canberras proved
vulnerable to attack by the Egyptian Air Force, which fortunately did
not choose to attack the crowded airfields of
RAF Akrotiri and
RAF Nicosia holding nearly the whole RAF strike force, with a recently
reactivated and poor-quality airfield taking much of the French
force). Over 100
Bomber Command aircraft took part in operations
against Egypt. By Second World War standards, the scale of attack was
Between 1959 and 1963, in addition to manned aircraft,
also gained 60 Thor nuclear intermediate-range ballistic missiles
dispersed to 20 RAF stations around Britain in a joint UK-US operation
known as Project Emily. During the following twelve years, Bomber
Command aircraft frequently deployed overseas to the Far East and
Middle East. They served particularly as a deterrent to Sukarno's
Indonesia during the Konfrontasi. A detachment of Canberras had a
permanent base at Akrotiri in
Cyprus in support of
Britain tested its first atomic bomb in 1952 and exploded its first
hydrogen bomb in 1957.
Operation Grapple saw Valiant bombers testing
the dropping of hydrogen bombs over Christmas Island. Advances in
electronic countermeasures were also applied to the V bombers over the
same period and the remaining V bombers came into service in the late
1950s. During the
Cuban missile crisis
Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, Bomber
Command aircraft maintained continuous strip alerts, ready to take off
at a moment's notice, and the Thor missiles were maintained at
advanced readiness. The Prime Minister did not disperse
aircraft to satellite airfields, lest that be viewed as an aggressive
By the early 1960s doubts emerged about the ability of
to pierce the defences of the Soviet Union. The shooting down of a U-2
spyplane in 1960 confirmed that the Soviet Union did have
surface-to-air missiles capable of reaching the heights at which
bombers operated. Since the Second World War the philosophy of bombing
had involved going higher and faster. With the supersession of high
and fast tactics, ultra-low-level attack was substituted. Bomber
Command aircraft had not been designed for that kind of attack, and
airframe fatigue increased. All Valiants were grounded in October 1964
and permanently withdrawn from service in January 1965. Low-level
operations also reduced the lifespan of the Victors and Vulcans.
Bomber Command's other main function was to provide tanker aircraft to
the RAF. The Valiant was the first bomber used as a tanker
operationally. Trials had been carried[when?] out with air-to-air
refuelling using Lincolns and Meteors, and had proved successful, so
many of the new bombers were designed to be able to be used in the
tanker role; indeed, some Valiants were produced as a dedicated tanker
variant. As high-level penetration declined as an attack technique,
the Valiant saw more and more use as a tanker. With the introduction
of the Victor B2[when?], the earlier models of that aircraft were also
converted to tankers. The withdrawal of the Valiant from service
caused the conversion of many of the Victors to tankers to be greatly
speeded up. The Vulcan also saw service as a tanker,
but only in an improvised conversion during the
Falklands War of 1982.
Ironically, in the tanker role, the Victor not only outlived Bomber
Command, but also all the other V bombers by nine years.
In a further attempt to make the operation of the bomber force safer,
attempts were made to develop stand-off weapons, with which capability
the bombers would not have to penetrate Soviet airspace. However,
efforts to do so had only limited success. The first attempt involved
Blue Steel missile
Blue Steel missile (in service: 1963–1970). It worked, but its
range meant that bombers still had to enter Soviet airspace.
Longer-range systems were developed, but failed and/or were cancelled.
This fate befell the Mark 2 of the Blue Steel, its replacement, the
Skybolt ALBM and the ground-based Blue Streak programme.
However, attempts to develop a stand-off nuclear deterrent eventually
succeeded. Britain procured American Polaris missiles and built Royal
Navy submarines to carry them. The modern form of the British nuclear
force was thus essentially reached.
Royal Navy submarines relieved the
RAF of the nuclear deterrent mission in 1969, but by that point,
Bomber Command no longer existed.
RAF Fighter Command
RAF Fighter Command and
Bomber Command merged in 1968 to form Strike
RAF Coastal Command
RAF Coastal Command followed in November 1969.
Bomber Command had a successful period of existence. Its early
potential was at first not realised, but with the development of
better navigation and aircraft it carried war to the enemy in
spectacular fashion. Postwar, it carried Britain's nuclear deterrent
through a difficult period, and continued the fine traditions existing
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief
At any one time several air officers served on the staff of Bomber
Command and so the overall commander was known as the Air Officer
Commanding-in-Chief, the most well-known being
Air Chief Marshal
Air Chief Marshal Sir
Arthur Harris. The Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief and their dates of
appointment are listed below with the rank which they held whilst in
14 July 1936 –
Air Chief Marshal
Air Chief Marshal Sir John Steel
12 September 1937 –
Air Chief Marshal
Air Chief Marshal Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt
3 April 1940 –
Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal
5 October 1940 –
Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse
8 January 1942 – Air Vice Marshal J. E. A. Baldwin (Acting C-in-C)
22 February 1942 –
Air Chief Marshal
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris
15 September 1945 –
Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley
16 January 1947 –
Air Marshal Sir Hugh Saunders
8 October 1947 –
Air Marshal Sir Aubrey Ellwood
2 February 1950 –
Air Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd
9 April 1953 –
Air Marshal Sir George Mills
22 January 1956 –
Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst
20 May 1959 –
Air Marshal Sir Kenneth Cross
1 September 1963 –
Air Marshal Sir John Grandy
19 February 1965 –
Air Marshal Sir Wallace Kyle
"Berlin 1940–1945": For bombardment of Berlin by aircraft of Bomber
Fortress Europe 1940–1944": For operations by aircraft based in the
British Isles against targets in Germany, Italy and enemy-occupied
Europe, from the fall of France to the invasion of Normandy.
The interior of the
Bomber Command Memorial in London
Main article: RAF
Bomber Command Memorial
Robin Gibb led an effort to memorialize those who lost their
lives during World War II and in April, 2011, it was announced that
the £5.6 million needed to build the memorial had been raised.
The foundation stone of the
Bomber Command Memorial for the crews of
Bomber Command was laid in
Green Park, London
Green Park, London on 4 May 2011.
The memorial was designed by architect Liam O'Connor, who was also
responsible for the design and construction of the Commonwealth
Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace. Sculptor
Philip Jackson created the large bronze sculpture which stands within
the memorial. It consists of seven figures 9 feet (3 m) tall, and
represents the aircrew of a
Bomber Command heavy bomber. Jackson
described the sculpture as capturing "the moment when they get off the
aircraft and they've dumped all their heavy kit onto the ground."
The memorial was dedicated and unveiled on 28 June 2012 by Queen
In October 2015 a Memorial and Walls of Names were unveiled in Lincoln
at the International
Bomber Command Centre.
Target for Tonight
G for George
Bomber Command Centre
Bomber Command Memorial
Bomber Command Aircrew of World War II
112 Signals Unit Stornoway
^ German deaths by aerial bombardment (It is not clear if these totals
include Austrians, of whom about 24,000 were killed (see Austrian
Press & Information Service, Washington, D.C Archived 20 April
2006 at the Wayback Machine.) and other territories in the Third Reich
but not in modern Germany.)
600,000 about 80,000 were children in Hamburg, Juli 1943 in Der
Spiegel Online 2003 (in German)
Twentieth Century Atlas – Death Tolls lists the following totals and
more than 305,000 (1945 Strategic Bombing Survey);
400,000 Hammond Atlas of the 20th Century (1996)
410,000 R. J. Rummel, 100 percent democidal;
499,750 Michael Clodfelter Warfare and Armed Conflict: A Statistical
Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1618–1991;
John Keegan The Second World War (1989);
J. A. S. Grenville
J. A. S. Grenville citing "official Germany" in A History of
the World in the Twentieth Century (1994)
600,000 Paul Johnson Modern Times (1983)
^ Seven of the VCs were to members of Dominion air forces and nine
were posthumous. Two personnel from the same aircrew received the VC
as a result of their actions on 12 May 1940. With the Germans breaking
through, 12 Squadron, flying obsolete Fairey Battles, was ordered to
attack two bridges on the
Albert Canal near Maastricht. The whole
squadron volunteered and five aircraft, all that were available, took
off. Four Battles were shot down by flak and German fighters, while
the fifth staggered back to base heavily damaged. One of the four shot
down was piloted by Flying Officer Donald Garland, who dived from
6,000 feet (1,800 m) in the face of intense fire, and succeeded
in destroying one of the bridges. He and his observer, Sgt Tom Gray,
both received the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross.
^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 222.
^ Smith, David (20 August 2006). "RAF tribute stirs up 'war crime'
storm". The Observer. London. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
^ Rayner, Gordon (9 March 2012). "Lord Ashcroft donates final £1
Bomber Command Memorial". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May
^ Boyne, Walter J. (2012). Clash of Wings: World War II in the Air.
Simon and Schuster. pp. 19–20. ISBN 9781451685138.
^ Judkins, Phil. "Making Vision into Power", International Journal of
Engineering and Technology, Vol 82, No 1 (January 2012), p.114
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt Appeal against aerial bombardment of
civilian populations, 1 September 1939
^ Taylor (2005), Chapter "Call Me Meier", p. 105
^ A.C. Grayling (Bloomsbury 2006), p. 24.
^ Bleetham, Alex. "Creation of the
Bomber Force 1936–1940".
^ Hastings 1979, p. 6
^ Taylor References Chapter "Call Me Meier", Page 111
^ Richards 1953, p.124.
^ Richards, Dennis. The
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force 1939–1945 Volume I The Fight
at Odds. ibiblio.org. p. 182
from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2017.
Missing or empty title= (help)
^ Milberry, Larry (General Editor). Sixty Years – The RCAF and CF
Air Command 1924–1984. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. (p. 166)
^ Dunmore, Spencer and Carter, William. Reap the Whirlwind: The Untold
Story of 6 Group, Canada's
Bomber Force of World War II. Toronto:
McLelland and Stewart Inc., 1991.(p. 375).
^ Davis, Rob. "
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force (RAF)
Bomber Command 1939–1945".
Archived from the original on 15 June 2008. Retrieved 3 July
^ Part I: A Failure of Intelligence Technology Review, 1 November
^ Bishop, Patrick.
Bomber Boys – Fighting Back 1940–1945.
^ Blank, Ralf. "Battle of the
Ruhr 1939–1945". Retrieved
^ "Campaign Diary".
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
Bomber Command 60th Anniversary.
UK Crown. Archived from the original on 15 May 2007. Retrieved
^ "The long trip home". RAF Museum. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
^ Bergander, Götz, Dresden im Luftkrieg:
Vorgeschichte-Zerstörung-Folgen (Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, 1977
Bombing of Dresden
Bombing of Dresden in 1945:Falsification of statistics, by
Richard J. Evans, Professor of Modern History, University of
Cambridge, a detailed critique of tendentious material in David
^ Pforzheim – 23 February 1945 by Christian Groh. In German.
http://babelfish.altavista.com translates the web page from German
into a form of English which can be used to verify facts.
^ International Review of the Red Cross no 323, p.347-363 The Law of
Air Warfare (1998)
^ a b c Roberts, Andrew (March 2007). "High courage on the axe-edge of
war". The Times. London.
^ Robertson, John (1984). Australia Goes to War. Australia: Doubleday.
p. 216. ISBN 0-86824-155-5.
^ Nor the Years Condemn by Rob Davies Archived 15 June 2008 at the
^ A Failure of Intelligence Freeman Dyson, MIT Technology Review
^ Falconer, Jonathan
Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945 p.51
^ Hastings 1979, p. 334
^ Hastings 1979, p. 343
^ Otter, p.262
^ Hastings 1979, p. 275
^ Hastings 1979, p. 209 and pp. 460–461
^ Hastings 1979, p. 173
^ Staff Air Commodore Henry Probert (obituary), The Times, 14 February
^ Momyer, William M. Air power in three wars, DIANE Publishing,
ISBN 1-4289-9396-7. pp. 190–192. This book contains a full
quotation of the two paragraphs quoted here, and cites the source as
Albert Speer. Spandau, The Secret Diaries, New York: Macmillan and
Company, 1976, pp. 339–340
^ a b Tooze, p. 598.
^ Cosgrove, Troy. "
Bomber Command's 19 Victoria Cross Winners".
Archived from the original on 20 September 2008. Retrieved
^ Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore (2005). English Electric Canberra: The
History and Development of a Classic Jet. Pen & Sword.
^ Barry Jones (2000). V-bombers: Valiant, Vulcan and Victor. Crowood.
^ Maurice Kirby and M. T. Godwin. "V is for vulnerable: operational
research and the v-bombers." Defence Studies (2009) 9#1 pp. 168–187.
^ Brookes, Andrew (2009). Vulcan Units of the Cold War. Osprey
Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-297-4.
^ News Archive Brothers Gibb
Bomber Command Memorial foundation stone laid Defence News, 5 May
^ "A fitting tribute to the young men of raf bomber command" Archived
29 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.. (2012).
Association. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
^ a b "Queen unveils RAF
Bomber Command memorial". (2012). BBC News
Online. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
Bomber Command Centre". Retrieved 3 February
Bomber Boys – Fighting Back 1940–1945.
Bomber Command 1939–1945. ISBN 978-0-7110-2699-5.
Don Charlwood No Moon Tonight. ISBN 0-907579-06-X.
Childers, Thomas. "'Facilis descensus averni est': The Allied Bombing
of Germany and the Issue of German Suffering", Central European
History Vol. 38, No. 1 (2005), pp. 75–105 in JSTOR
Garrett, Stephen A. Ethics and Airpower in World War II: The British
Bombing of German Cities (1993)
Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. Action Stations: Military Airfields of
Yorkshire v. 4. ISBN 978-0-85059-532-1.
Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Sutton
Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7509-3171-X.
Grayling, A. C. (2006). Among the Dead Cities. London: Bloomsbury.
Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. Action Stations: Wartime Military Airfields
of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2.
Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore.
Bomber Aircrew of World War II: True
Stories of Frontline Air Combat. ISBN 978-1-84415-066-3.
Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. English Electric Canberra: The History and
Development of a Classic Jet. Pen & Sword, 2005.
Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. To Shatter the Sky:
Bomber Airfield at War.
Harris, Arthur. Despatch on War Operations (Cass Studies in Air
Power). ISBN 978-0-7146-4692-3.
Hastings, Max (1979). RAF
Bomber Command. Pan Books.
Koch, H. W. "The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany: the Early
Phase, May–September 1940." The Historical Journal, 34 (March 1991)
pp 117–41. online at JSTOR
Lammers, Stephen E. "William Temple and the bombing of Germany: an
Exploration in the Just War Tradition." Journal of Religious Ethics,
19 (Spring 1991): 71–93. Explains how the Archbishop of Canterbury
justified strategic bombing.
Bomber Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive,
1939–1945. London: Arms and Armour, 1984.
Middlebrook, Martin. The
Peenemünde Raid: The Night of 17–18 August
1943. New York: Bobs-Merrill, 1982.
Neufeld, Michael J. The Rocket and the Reich:
Peenemünde and the
Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. New York: The Free Press, 1995.
Otter, Patrick. Yorkshire Airfields Countryside Books (1998)
Overy. Richard. "The Means to Victory: Bombs and Bombing" in Overy,
Why the Allies Won (1995), pp 101–33
Peden, Murray. A Thousand Shall Fall. ISBN 0-7737-5967-0.
Richards, Denis (1953).
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force 1939–1945:Volume I The Fight
at Odds. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
Smith, Malcolm. "The Allied Air Offensive", Journal of Strategic
Studies 13 (Mar 1990) 67–83
Taylor, Frederick. (2005) Dresden: Tuesday, 13 February 1945.
Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-7084-1
Terraine, John. A Time for Courage: The
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force in the
European War, 1939–1945 (1985)
Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the
Nazi Economy Penguin (2007) ISBN 978-0-14-100348-1
Verrier, Anthony. The
Bomber Offensive. London: Batsford, 1968.
Webster, Charles and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive
Against Germany, 1939–1945 (HMSO, 1961 & facsimile reprinted by
Naval & Military Press, 2006), 4 vols.
Wells, Mark K. Courage and air warfare: the Allied aircrew experience
in the Second World War (1995)
Werrell, Kenneth P. "The Strategic Bombing of Germany in World War II:
Costs and Accomplishments", Journal of American History 73 (1986)
702–713; in JSTOR
Staff, RAF History – The Second World War A bibliography prepared by
the RAF (see the section "
Bomber Command and the Strategic Air
Offensive against Germany")
– Bob Baxter's
Bomber Command Comprehensive history and research
Bomber Command Memorial Appeal The website looking to raise funds
Bomber Command Memorial in London.
Bomber Command Memorial Appeal The donation website for the Bomber
Command Memorial in London.
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