RAF Bomber Command
|Active||14 July 1936–1968|
|Branch||Royal Air Force|
|Headquarters||1936-40: RAF Uxbridge
1940-68: RAF High Wycombe
|Motto||Strike Hard Strike Sure|
|Engagements||Second World War|
|Battle honours||Berlin 1940-45
Fortress Europe 1940-44
|Air Marshal Charles Portal
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris
|Bomber||Valiant, Vulcan, Victor.|
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. When the Second World War started, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the then-neutral United States, asked the major belligerents to confine their air raids to military targets; however following the German Rotterdam Blitz of 14 May 1940, RAF Bomber Command was authorised to attack German targets east of the Rhine. Later in the War the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries notably in the Ruhr valley and many German cities including Cologne and Dresden in 1945. The raids caused the loss of up to 600,000 civilian lives. Bomber Command crews suffered extremely high casualty rates and RAF Bomber Command had 19 Victoria Cross recipients.[note 1]
At the time of the formation of Bomber Command in 1936, Giulio Douhet's slogan "the bomber will always get through" was popular, and figures like 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 in some ways akin to its later role as a nuclear deterrent force. It was seen as an entity that threatened the enemy with utter destruction, and thus prevented war. However, in addition to being made obsolete by technology, even if the bomber did always get through, its potential for damage to cities was massively overrated.
The problem was that the British Government was basing its data on a casualty rate of 50 deaths per ton of bombs dropped. The basis for this assumption was a few raids on London in the later stages of World War I, by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers. Both the government and the general public viewed the bomber as a far more terrible weapon than it really was.
The early years of the Second World War
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 to effectively attack the enemy as a pure, stand-alone 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 clearly located by the bomb aimer.
When the war began on 1 September 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the then-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". The United Kingdom's 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 Phony War on 15 May 1940, one day after the Rotterdam Blitz.
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 of radar stations, this left France effectively prostrate before the threat of a German bombing attack. The final problem was lack of good enough aircraft. The main Bomber Command workhorses at the start of the war, aircraft such as 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 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—they lacked the range to do so from British airfields.
The Sitzkrieg (or Phony War) mainly affected the army. However, to an extent, Bomber Command 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 enemy. Most of the missions 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). The attack in the west in May 1940 changed everything.
The Fairey Battles of the Advanced Air Striking Force were partially disabled by German strikes on their airfields at the opening of the invasion of France. However, far from all of the force was caught on the ground. The Faireys 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 "Phony War", the Battle force had actually trained over German airspace at night.
Following the German Rotterdam Blitz of 14 May 1940, RAF Bomber Command was authorized to attack German targets east of the Rhine on May 15, 1940; the Air Ministry authorized Air Marshal 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 at night were self-illuminating). 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's strategic bombing campaign on Germany had thus begun.
Bomber Command itself soon fully joined in the action. With the rapid collapse of France, invasion of England seemed a clear and present danger. As its part in Battle of Britain, Bomber Command was assigned to pound the invasion barges and fleets assembling in the Channel ports. This was much less high profile 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. 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.
Like the United States Army Air Forces later in the war, Bomber Command had first concentrated on a doctrine of "precision" bombing in daylight. However, when well-organised German defence cut several British raids to pieces in late 1939, a switch to night attack tactics was forced upon the Command. The problems of enemy defences were then replaced with the problems of simply finding the target. 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 less 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 technical navigational aids to allow the bombers to find, at least, the right part of the country.
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. It was, however, returned to Bomber Command control after the evacuation of France, and reconstituted. 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 command. Bomber Command also gained two new groups during the war: the 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 were distributed throughout 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 different 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 experienced. 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 equipment H2S radar carried in the bombers themselves. 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.
By late 1941 RAF Bomber Command regularly mounted raids involving hundreds of aircraft.
Strategic bombing 1942-45
After the officially-commissioned 1941 Butt Report revealed shocking inaccuracies in targeting (Churchill recognised "this is a very serious paper and seems to require urgent attention"), The 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 targeting 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 Second World War, culminating in the bombing of Dresden in 1945.
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 flew RAF Bomber Command's 100,000th sortie of the Second World War which destroyed 160 acres (0.65 km2) and hit 53 Krupps buildings. The series of raids on Hamburg (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 through the winter of 1943-44. In August 1943, the RAF Operation Hydra preventative bombing of the Peenemünde 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 to (much to his annoyance) to tactical and transport communications targets in France in support of the imminent 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 in total on Duisburg and Brunswick, the greatest bomb load dropped in a day during the Second World War.
The peak of Bomber Command's operations occurred in the raids of March 1945, when its squadrons dropped their highest amount of ordnance (by weight)[quantify] for any month in the war. Wesel in the Rhineland, bombed on 16, 17, 18 and 19 February, was bombed again on the 23 March, leaving the city "97% 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 of 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[note 2] to be based on Okinawa, and there was a re-organisation of groups within Bomber Command for the proposed invasion of Japan. The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred before any part of the force had been transferred to the Pacific.
Allied bombing of German cities killed between 305,000 and 600,000 civilians.[note 3] 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, an article in the International Review of the Red Cross stated:
- 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% 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.[clarification needed] A 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 entire Blitz, or in 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 Bomber Command personnel killed during the war, 72% were British, 18% were Canadian, 7% were Australian and 3% 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 active service
- 12 taken prisoner of war (some injured)
- 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) under a civilian, Basil Dickins, supported by a small team of mathematicians and scientists. BC-ORS (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's aircrew in carrying out their orders. Statistically there was little prospect of surviving a tour of 30 operations and by 1943 the odds against survival were pretty grim with only one in six expected to survive their first tour, while a slim one in forty would survive their second tour . The overall loss rate for Bomber Command`s operations throughout the war was 2.2%, but loss rates over Germany were significantly higher, between November 1943 and March 1944 operations over that country resulted in an average 5.1% loss rate. The highest loss rate (11.8%) on one mission was incurred on the Nuremberg raid (30 March 1944). The disparity in loss rates was reflected in the fact that at one point in the war 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" Furthermore the official loss rate figures never included aircraft crashing in the UK on their return (usually due to damage suffered whilst on the operation) even if the machine was a write off and/or some or all of the crew were killed, this added at least 15% to the official loss figures. It must also be remembered that losses whilst the crews were training were significant, some courses lost as many as 25% of their intake before graduation, in all 5327 men were killed in training between 1939 and 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.
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 side.
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% and in 1944 to 17%. Relying on US gathered statistics the British survey found that actual arms production decreases were a mere 3% for 1943, and 1% for 1944. However they did find decreases of 46.5% and 39% 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 at these times. 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 Luftwaffe night fighters were committed to the defence of the Reich – mostly twin engined 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% of all artillery production, 20% of heavy shells, 33% of the output of the optical industry for sights and aiming devices and 50% 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 time.
History: 1946 to 1968
To significantly expand its delivery capabilities, Bomber Command acquired B-29 Superfortresses, known to the RAF as Boeing Washingtons. These aircraft added another level of capability to a fleet dominated by Avro Lincolns, an update 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, being exported to many countries and being license-built in the United States. 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.
The V bombers were conceived as the replacement for the wartime Lancasters and Halifaxes. Three advanced aircraft were developed from 1946, along with the Short Sperrin fall-back design. They contend that one design should have been pursued, enabling a larger production run, but this is with 20/20 hindsight, it not being possible to 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).
In 1956, Bomber Command faced its first operational test since the Second World War, and its last major action in anger. The Egyptian Government nationalised the Suez Canal during that year, and the British Government decided to take military action. During the Suez Crisis, Bomber Command Canberras were deployed to Cyprus and Malta and Valiants were deployed to Malta. The Canberra performed well, but the Valiant had problems; since it had just been introduced into service, this was hardly surprising. The Canberras were also vulnerable to attack by the Egyptian Air Force, which fortunately did not choose to attack the crowded airfields of Cyprus (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 light.
Between 1959 and 1963, in addition to manned aircraft, Bomber Command was also equipped with 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 were particularly used as a deterrent to Sukarno's Indonesia during the Konfrontasi. A detachment of Canberras was also permanently maintained at Akrotiri in Cyprus in support of CENTO obligations.
As the remaining V bombers came into service in the late 1950s, the British nuclear deterrent was gaining notice. The first British atomic bomb was tested in 1952, with the first hydrogen bomb being exploded in 1957. Operation Grapple saw Valiant bombers dropping hydrogen bombs over Christmas Island. Advances in electronic countermeasures were also applied to the V bombers over the same period.
Nuclear annihilation came dramatically to world attention during 1962. The Cuban missile crisis was one of the closest brushes with nuclear conflict the world has seen. During that tense period, Bomber Command aircraft maintained continuous strip alerts, ready to take off at a moment's notice, and the Thor missiles were likewise maintained at advanced readiness. Heavy bombers were effectively doing what Fighter Command had done in 1940 in terms of reaction time. However, at no time did the Prime Minister take the decision to disperse the Bomber Command aircraft to satellite airfields, lest that be viewed as an aggressive step.
By the early 1960s, doubts were surfacing about the ability of Bomber Command 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 that bombers operated at. Since World War II, the philosophy of bombers had been to go higher and faster. That found its ultimate expression in the XB-70 Valkyrie, developed for the USAF, but subsequently cancelled. With the deprecation of high and fast tactics, the new mantra became ultra-low-level attack. However, since the Bomber Command aircraft had not originally been designed for that kind of attack profile, problems were caused, primarily in airframe fatigue. The Valiant was the first to suffer; severe airframe fatigue meant that 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. 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 the Blue Steel missile. 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 American Skybolt ALBM and the ground-based Blue Streak programme.
However, attempts to develop a stand-off nuclear deterrent were eventually successful. The American Polaris missile was procured, and Royal Navy submarines built 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 was no more.
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 the war to the enemy in spectacular fashion. Postwar, it carried Britain's nuclear deterrent through a difficult period, and continued the fine traditions existing in 1945.
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 post.
- 14 July 1936 - Air Chief Marshal Sir John Steel
- 12 September 1937 - 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 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 Command.
- "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.
Singer Robin Gibb spearheaded an effort to memorialize those who lost their lives during World War II and in April, 2011, it was announced that the £5.6million needed to build the memorial was 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.
- 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 May 12, 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.
- A scaling back from the original plan of about 1,000 aircraft
- German Deaths by aerial bombardment (It is not clear if these totals includes Austrians, of whom about 24,000 were killed (see Austrian Press & Information Service, Washington, D.C) 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 sources:
- more than 305,000 (1945 Strategic Bombing Survey);
- 400,000 Hammond Atlas of the 20th Century (1996)
- 410,000 R. J. Rummel, 100% democidal;
- 499,750 Michael Clodfelter Warfare and Armed Conflict: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1618-1991;
- 593,000 John Keegan The Second World War (1989);
- 593,000 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)
- Cosgrove, Troy. "Bomber Command's 19 Victoria Cross Winners". Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Smith, David (August 20, 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 million for Bomber Command Memorial". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
- Judkins, Phil. "Making Vision into Power", International Journal of Engineering and Technology, Vol 82, No 1 (January 2012), p.114; .
- 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". Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Hastings 1979, p. 6
- Taylor References Chapter "Call Me Meier", Page 111
- Richards 1953, p.124.
- Hinchliffe, 2000. p. 44
- Richards, Dennis THE ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939–1945 VOLUME I THE FIGHT AT ODDS, p182
- 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 (RAF) Bomber Command 1939-1945". Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Part I: A Failure of Intelligence Technology Review, 1 November 2006[dead link]
- Bishop, Patrick. Bomber Boys - Fighting Back 1940-1945. ISBN 978-0-00-719215-1.
- Blank, Ralf. "Battle of the Ruhr 1939-1945". Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- "Campaign Diary". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Retrieved 2007-05-24.
- 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)
- Roberts, Andrew (March 2007). "High courage on the axe-edge of war". The Times (London). Retrieved invalidlink.
- 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 p. 460-461
- Hastings 1979, p. 173
- Staff Air Commodore Henry Probert (obituary), The Times, 14 February 2008
- 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: MacMillian and Company, 1976, pp. 339-340
- Tooze, pp. 596-601.
- Tooze, p. 598.
- Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore (2005). English Electric Canberra: The History and Development of a Classic Jet. Pen & Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-242-1.
- 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 May 2011
- "a fitting tribute to the young men of raf bomber command". (2012). Bomber Command Association. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- "Queen unveils RAF Bomber Command memorial". (2012). BBC News Online. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- Bishop, Patrick. Bomber Boys - Fighting Back 1940-1945. ISBN 978-0-00-719215-1.
- 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 978-0-85059-484-3.
- 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 978-1-84415-242-1.
- 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 0-330-39204-2
- 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 978-0-85368-677-4.
- 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) ISBN 978-1853065422
- 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 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 in the European War, 1939-1945 (1985)
- Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy Penguin (2007) ISBN 978-0141003481
- 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. ISBN 978-184574-437-3.
- 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 about Bomber Command.
- - Bomber Command Memorial Appeal The website looking to raise funds for the Bomber Command Memorial in London.
- - Bomber Command Memorial Appeal The donation website for the Bomber Command Memorial in London.
- Timelines of Bomber Command over '42-'45
- Related Newspaper Articles[dead link]
- RAF Bomber Command at War 1939-45 CD audiobooks (actuality recordings)
- Bomber Command Squadrons
Wessex Bombing Area