1939: Battle , Blenheim , Hampden , Wellesley , Wellington , Whitley
1942: Manchester , Stirling , Halifax , Lancaster , Mosquito .
1950: Washington B.1
1951: Canberra .
Avro Vulcan 1958:
Handley Page Victor .
RAF BOMBER COMMAND controlled the RAF 's bomber forces from 1936 to
1968. Along with the
United States Army Air Forces
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 percent 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.
* 1 Background
* 2 The early years of the Second World War
* 3 Organisation
* 4 Strategic bombing 1942–45
* 5 Casualties
* 6 The "balance sheet"
* 7 1946–1968
* 8 Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief
* 9 Battle honours
* 10 Memorials
* 11 See also
* 12 References
* 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
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 Rotterdam
Blitz . Scale comparison diagram of the trio of British
twin-engined medium bombers at the outbreak of the Second World War;
the Whitley (pink), the
Vickers Wellington (blue) and the Handley Page
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 _ 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
Vickers Wellington ,
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
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 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
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
of Britain ,
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 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
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
squadrons. A photograph taken during a typical RAF night attack
with Avro Lancasters far below
STRATEGIC BOMBING 1942–45
Strategic bombing during World War II Diagram
comparing the Stirling (yellow) with its contemporaries; the Avro
Lancaster (blue) and the
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 of 14 February
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
V-2 rocket facility
opened the secondary Crossbow campaign against long range weapons.
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 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 25/26 April.
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
groups were re-organised for
Operation Downfall but the Soviet
invasion of Manchuria and the 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. One of the most controversial aspects of
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 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 lanes.
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
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
Bomber Command personnel
killed during the war, 72 percent were British, 18 percent were
Canadian, 7 percent were Australian and 3 percent were New Zealanders.
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
* 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 rate
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,
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 from 1939–1945.
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 tracks.
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 twin
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
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 .
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 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 .
Thor missile launch, code name "Bean Ball", Vandenberg AFB, 3
August 1959. The third of 21 Thor missiles launched by RAF crews
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 (in service in 1958) and
Avro Vulcan (1956).
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
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
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
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 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 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, 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 (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 and
Bomber Command merged in 1968 to form Strike
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 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 Sir John Steel
* 12 September 1937 –
Air Chief Marshal Sir
* 3 April 1940 –
Air Marshal Sir
* 5 October 1940 –
Air Marshal Sir
* 8 January 1942 – Air Vice Marshal J. E. A. Baldwin (Acting
* 22 February 1942 –
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris
* 15 September 1945 –
Air Marshal Sir
* 16 January 1947 –
Air Marshal Sir
* 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
* 20 May 1959 –
Air Marshal Sir
* 1 September 1963 –
Air Marshal Sir
* 19 February 1965 –
Air Marshal Sir
* "Berlin 1940–1945": For bombardment of Berlin by aircraft of
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
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 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 Elizabeth II .
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
* 400,000 _Hammond Atlas of the 20th Century_ (1996)
R. J. Rummel
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 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
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.
* ^ 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
* ^ 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),
* ^ President
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".
* ^ Part I: A Failure of Intelligence Technology Review, 1 November
* ^ Bishop, Patrick. _
Bomber Boys – Fighting Back 1940–1945_.
ISBN 978-0-00-719215-1 .
* ^ 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.
* ^ "The long trip home". RAF Museum. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
* ^ Bergander, Götz, _Dresden im Luftkrieg:
Vorgeschichte-Zerstörung-Folgen_ (Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, 1977
* ^ The
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 Irving's book.
* ^ 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
* ^ 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
* ^ 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 2008-07-03.
* ^ Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore (2005). _English Electric Canberra:
The History and Development of a Classic Jet_. Pen & Sword. ISBN
* ^ Barry Jones (2000). _V-bombers: Valiant, Vulcan and Victor_.
Crowood. pp. 13–15.
* ^ Maurice Kirby and M. T. Godwin. "V is for vulnerable:
operational research and the v-bombers." _Defence Studies_ (2009) 9#1
* ^ 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
* ^ "A fitting tribute to the young men of raf bomber command".
Bomber Command Association. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
* ^ _A_ _B_ "Queen unveils RAF
Bomber Command memorial". (2012).
BBC News Online. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
* ^ "International
Bomber Command Centre". Retrieved 3 February
* Bishop, Patrick. _
Bomber Boys – Fighting Back 1940–1945_. ISBN
* Carter, Ian. _
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 .
* Falconer, Jonathan. _
Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945_. Sutton
Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7509-3171-X .
* Grayling, A. C. (2006). _Among the Dead Cities_. London:
Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-7671-6 .
* Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. _Action Stations: Wartime Military
Airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2_. ISBN
* 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. ISBN
* Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. _To Shatter the Sky:
Bomber Airfield at
War_. ISBN 978-0-85059-678-6 .
* 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. ISBN
* 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.
* Messenger, Charles. _
Bomber Harris and the Strategic Bombing
Offensive, 1939–1945_. London: Arms and Armour, 1984. ISBN
* 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