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 (1939-1945) WWII
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Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/11/2021 9:10:25 PM
At about this time in November, 1941, there was a prolonged hiatus in Bomber Command activity. It would last until late February, 1942. [Note: I am not talking about a cessation of activities, but of a serious reduction and redirection of activity while BC’s role was assessed.]

On the night of 7/8 November, Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse initiated a major raid against a series of targets, mainly but not entirely in Germany. This would be the largest raid to date by BC, involving 392 a/c – probably the maximum number of a/c available at the time. Berlin, Cologne and Mannheim were the principal targets; Essen, Ostend, Boulogne and Oslo fjord were also targeted. The orders remained in place as weather deteriorated. Eventually weather conditions were forecast to be so bleak that Air Vice-Marshal Slessor (of 5 Group) refused his orders and demanded an alternate target. 75 aircraft from 5 Group 9 61 Hampdens, 14 Manchesters) would be redirected to Cologne, with no losses. Aircrew reported many fires, but German records show 2 bldgs destroyed, 14 damaged, with no industrial damage. Five civilians were killed and five injured.

The rest of Bomber Command executed Peirse’s orders, with largely ineffective results. A look at the numbers for Berlin gives an indication of RAF BC’s impact. 169 a/c (101 Wellingtons, 42 Whitleys, 17 Stirlings, 9 Halifaxes) were dispatched. 21 a/c (10 Wellingtons, 9 Whitleys, 2 Stirlings) didn’t return. That is 12.5% of the force dispatched. I can’t say all aircrew were lost, because some of those a/c losses would have ejected at least some crew before crashing, and some may have been lifted from the North Sea after running out of fuel and ditching. But typical crew for those bombers lost would add up to 121 airmen.

Of the 129 dispatched to Berlin, only 73 reached the target area. Berlin records indicate 54 buildings damaged, of which 14 were destroyed, with 11 civilians killed and 44 injured. A total of 637 people were “dehoused”.

If possible, it gets worse.

55 a/c (53 Wellingtons, 2 Stirlings) were dispatched to Mannheim. 43 a/c report bombing Mannheim; 7 Wellingtons (42 crew) were lost, for 12.7% overall loss rate. Mannheim, specifically questioned about the events of this night’s attack, show no record of the city being attacked on the night in question.

Martin Middlebrook’s summary (Bomber Command War Diaries, p 218) is shocking enough, but only part of the tale.
Total effort for the night: 392 sorties, 37 aircraft (9.4 per cent) lost. This loss was more than double the previous highest for night operations. It is probable that many of the casualties crashed in the North Sea, suffering from icing or fuel exhaustion in the bad weather conditions there.”

Note that Middlebrook talks of the a/c as being casualties. That bothers me. Crashed a/c are losses, not casualties. Human crews can be casualties; Middlebrook doesn’t mention them.

This night (7/8 Nov 1941) was but a final demonstration of Bomber Command challenges during the first 2+ years of the war. The Butt Report (Aug 41) and what can be seen as “confusing” directives from Air Ministry brought the War Cabinet to question the value of Bomber Command, just one year after WSC had played orator concerning the primacy of Bomber Command in carrying the fight to the enemy.

Nuff said for now. I just keep getting drawn back to the numbers.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G

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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 6651
Joined: 2006
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/16/2021 9:39:24 PM
Hi Brian,

Remember Nazi Germany & the Luftwaffe were quite formidable at this time. The losses they threw at the RAF are to be expected! Don’t you think??

They are not chopped liver, after all!?
Regards,
MD
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/20/2021 8:09:53 PM
MD, lost a lengthy reply. Don’t know why. Short version: this is not a question of Luftwaffe strength, it’s a question of RAF incapability. In Nov 1941 the Luftwaffe was fully involved on the Russian front, in Greece, and in North Africa. They had pulled their bomber effort against England in May 1941 to shift to support for Barbarossa. What they left in the west was largely night-fighter strength to maintain the Kammhuber Line.

Take a harder look at the Mannheim raid whose stats I included. These are ugly numbers, recognizing RAF self-induced deficiencies. Check wiki’s summary of the Butt Report of 18 Aug 1941.

The issue after 8/9 Nov 1941 was whether Bomber Command should be restructured toward a different task, or could be repurposed to become an effective fighting force. Peirse was transferred to a different command, the military means of sending a person to Coventry. For good or ill, the new commander, who took charge in late Feb 1942, was named “Bomber” Harris. For good or ill, he saved Bomber Command as we know it.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 6651
Joined: 2006
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/20/2021 9:44:35 PM
Hi Brian,

Thanks for straightening me out, so that's how Bomber Harris came to the forefront! He certainly was aggressive, & as they say "fortune smile on the aggressor!?

Bombs away,
MD
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/27/2021 10:27:44 PM
MD, I’m just offering a timeline, not an explanation. Peirse received a change of command because he failed to implement the Air Ministry’s (ill-defined) directives, and because he also lost too many a/c on an op he should have refused or misdirected. I’m not saying I think Peirse was incapable of meeting job requirements. It simply seems he was unable to meet two somewhat ill-defined but potentially contradictory directives with the tools he had. He was under extreme pressure to make RAF BC more effective than the Butt Report determined. At the same time, he was expected to begin implementing the ill-thought-out and statistically dodgy argument implementing “enemy dehousing”, the only major alternative to re-directing bomber activity. Peirse has neither the bomber capacity nor the technical mechanisms nor the crew qualifications to meet Air Ministry requirements. On Nov 8/9, all weaknesses came to the fore: bad target location; bad bombing; high losses. He became the ‘lamb’ to be sacrificed. It was either Peirse of Bomber Command; he didn’t stand a chance.

Harris came to the fore for a host of reasons. He was a WW1 RFC member, committed early to the concept of air power. He was a long-time practitioner of bombing between the wars, largely against Iraqi tribal units which were restless under British “guidance”. He had held increasingly significant positions as he rose in command, including some time in command (IIUC) Bomber Command 5 Group, the “most elite” of a service which did not recognize elites. When his name was raised to take command of BC, he was on mission in the US. IT would take some time for him to pass his responsibilities to a successor.

While I’m quite certain Harris was one of a very few candidates qualified for the job, I sense he was hand-picked because of his history and his values. He had used strategic bombing in the past to some effect; he was a committed supporter of a separate RAF. He seemed to have an agile, adaptive mind; he seemed to be able to argue for strategic bombing without moral trepidation. The bombing Mavens at the Air Ministry needed just such a person to become their highest-ranking front man.

He got the job. But he wouldn’t take command until yet one more blow would strike Bomber Command (unfairly, IMO). The “Channel Dash” was primarily a RN disaster, but RAF CC and BC also received some blame for the success of the German movement of ships through the “English” Channel. Nobody, of course, blamed the various war Ministries handling activities, but the media discussion, Parliamentary questions, civil concern, and military infighting between RN and RAF (quickly brought under D-notice).

Gotta go. I know that, even with this enhancement, I’m not offering the complexity of GB’s war existence at this point in a long war.

Cheers. Stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5186
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/28/2021 2:32:28 AM
Brian,

Those numbers you cite are scandalous .

When I read Churchill’s critique of the way the British armies were expended on the Western Front in the war of 1914-18, it strikes me as ironic that he was reconciled to such appalling arithmetic as that which afflicted the efforts of Bomber Command in the earlier part of the Second World War.

I suppose that it was a determination to be seen to be doing something aggressive against Germany, at a time when so many things had been going badly.

A statement of sorts, and a a grotesquely expensive one in terms of the exchange rate : especially given the value of experienced crew.

You allude to a service which did not recognise elites. That comment intrigues me. If you’re willing, please expound.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 2905
Joined: 2010
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/28/2021 4:59:09 AM
Quote:

You allude to a service which did not recognise elites. That comment intrigues me. If you’re willing, please expound.

Regards, Phil


I found it interesting too.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/29/2021 9:05:05 PM
Phil and Trevor, I’m working on a response to your “intrigue” over my comments about non-elitism. Every time I try, I find myself rewriting concepts I’m dealing with for my decades-long on-going book. I’ve shifted my answer from MHO because I need to get my arguments under control. I can write comments there without the incessant MHO clock ticking.

Your question is not forgotten or ignored. it’s simply hunting for boundaries within which I can answer you without offering a chapter.

Cheers, guys. And please stay safe.
Brian G

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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
11/30/2021 8:05:52 PM
in response to Phil’s other comment:Quote:
Those numbers you cite are scandalous .

When I read Churchill’s critique of the way the British armies were expended on the Western Front in the war of 1914-18, it strikes me as ironic that he was reconciled to such appalling arithmetic as that which afflicted the efforts of Bomber Command in the earlier part of the Second World War.

I suppose that it was a determination to be seen to be doing something aggressive against Germany, at a time when so many things had been going badly.

A statement of sorts, and a a grotesquely expensive one in terms of the exchange rate : especially given the value of experienced crew.

War is, we all know – even if we wish to think our interests are more cerebral – a mortal, obscene endeavour. Commanders must live with the decisions they make which cause the deaths of many young people, warriors and civilians alike.

One of the issues that has disturbed me from the beginning of my study of Bomber Command in WW2 is that the losses have always been reckoned in air craft rather than crew members. In fact, counting air craft lost means discounting humans lost. That struck me then, and remains now a repulsive technique, whether for RAF, USAAF or Luftwaffe losses. IMHO, a/c can never be a measure of loss or success. Count the bodies!

Phil, you’re right. The numbers aren’t just scandalous. They’re repugnant. And it takes a discerning eye to determine whether they are manipulated. An a/c crashed on landing is often taken as a crash, not a loss, even if all crew aboard are killed.

I have no idea how RAF BC operation statistics were delivered to WSC, or whether they were massaged before he received them. But he must have been aware of the controversies, since his tame science advisor, Professor Lindemann, was involved in the discussion following the Butt Report of August 1941. More than that, remember WSC’s comment that he would have accepted the loss of 100 a/c in Operation Millennium’s first raid on Cologne on 30/31 May, 1942 and still seen it as a success. That is an easy statement to make after the fact, when losses were lower and the attack on Cologne was deemed a success. But any loss of 100 a/c (just under 10% of the 1040+ a/c sent) would have included aircrew losses of 600-700 trained men, given a/c types involved.

Note, however, that five+ months after Operation Millennium, the USAAF suffered high losses in an ambitious aerial raid on Schweinfurt/Regensberg. At least 60 a/c (10%) were lost. B-17s crewed up at 10; 600 trained men were gone. This brought USAAF unsupported bombing activities to a halt as the USAAF underwent both tactical and strategic reassessment. Their 7/8•11•1941 moment came on 14•10•1942. Their reaction was similar to that of the RAF; their response was broader but less publicized.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5186
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
12/1/2021 3:20:42 AM
Brian,

Was there a rationale that accepted the loss of tens of thousands of aircrew as a price worth paying for the saving of a million infantrymen ?

Maybe the revulsion against the slaughter of 1914-18 was a determinant here.

A resolve to save flesh and blood by deploying metal and technology found its expression in the reliance on Bomber Command.

Callous expenditure of one cohort : fifty five thousand , not to mention hundreds of thousands of civilian victims.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 781
Joined: 2005
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
12/1/2021 7:15:44 AM
Quote:
Brian,

Was there a rationale that accepted the loss of tens of thousands of aircrew as a price worth paying for the saving of a million infantrymen ?

Maybe the revulsion against the slaughter of 1914-18 was a determinant here.

A resolve to save flesh and blood by deploying metal and technology found its expression in the reliance on Bomber Command.

Callous expenditure of one cohort : fifty five thousand , not to mention hundreds of thousands of civilian victims.

Regards, Phil


Hi Phil,

I think you have it exactly. Everyone remembered the costly attacks in the Great War, where assaulting battalions nearly always suffered grievous casualties, even if successful. It probably seemed quite efficient, to use Brian's example, to lose 'only' 100 aircraft and 600 airmen to cause some damage to German infrastructure that was otherwise out of the range of Allied armies.

I think most Great War generals would have bitten your hand off for the returns of fifty five thousand dead against the eventual crippling of the enemy's infrastructure. Total war is a numbers game, as those at the very top realised. Quite how they reconciled all those young dead airmen and civilians I have never understood; especially earlier in the war when the damage caused was seemingly negligible and casualties monstrously high.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
12/1/2021 7:59:52 PM
Phil, Colin, I get what you’re arguing. My argument remains the same: from the time of the Butt Report, released on 18 August 41 following ongoing concerns about bombing effectiveness, Bomber Command was aware of and did nothing much to correct their abysmal record. About the only positive things that can be said about Bomber Command during this period are that it was not yet the monolith Bomber Harris would make it (its largest effort of the war to date was 7/8 Nov, with a total of 392 sorties and a loss rate of 9.2%), it was not wholly committed to night bombing (though night ops outnumbered day ops by 8:1 in the four months ending 10 Nov 41.

My point is that while acceptance of RAF losses may have been a response to the horrors of WW1, Bomber Command was not providing any of the returns you suggest. This wasn’t saving infantry, or destroying the enemy’s structures or confidence. Not at this point in the war. Every op., every sortie, was yielding greater losses suffered than damages incurred. A garden shed lost in SW Berlin is not a decent return for a Hampden lost bombing it. When 55 aircraft are dispatched to attack a city, and 43 claim to have reached the target (that’s 80% even finding the target), losing seven a/c in the process, you’re talking 12%+ of those dispatched and 16%+ of those attacking not returning. When the target city reports no bombs dropped that night, it is difficult IMHO to argue that British and/or Commonwealth military leaders could so lie to themselves as to believe such losses were doing any good at all. Sorry, but IMHO this is not what Phil calls “callous expenditure of one cohort” or what Colin suggests are “returns…against the eventual crippling of the enemy’s infrastructure”. These Ops reek more of the “forlorn hope” or of “Kamikaze” than of any effective method of war-making. Bomber Command was broken, and needed to be fixed.

The real questions are as follows, IMHO:
• was it as badly broken as it appeared to be after 7/8 November?
• was it fixed?
• did anyone want to fix it?

Okay, rant over. Otherwise I’m going to question the mores of Air Ministry officials, and/or members of the War Cabinet, and/or WSC’s mental acuity.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 781
Joined: 2005
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
12/2/2021 5:34:48 AM
Hi Brian,

You raise interesting questions:

Quote:


• was it as badly broken as it appeared to be after 7/8 November?
• was it fixed?
• did anyone want to fix it?



I think it would be ridiculous of anyone to suggest Bomber Command was a highly functioning military organisation in 1941 or even 1942. Clearly the Allies wanted a way to strike directly at Nazi Germany immediately, as they were unable to do so with their respective armies and navies. I'm sure the hierarchy wanted it fixed - any fix would do - but clearly everyone was learning as they went along. That it cost so many lives does beg the question whether it should have gone on so long for such little gain against so heavy a cost. Shades of the Great War there again?

Might there also be another element here we haven't acknowledged? Sending airmen to their deaths over Germany somewhat placated the Soviet Union, who were doing the vast bulk of the fighting and dying against Nazi Germany and were demanding an Allied contribution/diversion to take the pressure off in any way. Perhaps the Allies were willing to accept the heavy losses of the air campaign to demonstrate to Stalin that they were at least doing some of the dying?

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5186
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
12/2/2021 2:46:43 PM
Colin,

Placating the Soviets was surely an important feature of the determination to press home attacks against the German people.

Placating the British people themselves might have been to the fore as well.

Until the high summer of 1941, British civilian deaths from aerial bombardment exceeded those of military personnel in action.

Hitting back was an important attribute of morale.

The arithmetic was grotesque , judging by what Brian has revealed . Surely the disparity between the loss rates and the damage inflicted was kept secret from the public. I’m convinced that Churchill himself was under no illusions in this regard : he was not one to subscribe to group think, and his record in the Great War stands as a reminder that he was conspicuous in his discernment of statistical data, and his determination to challenge interpretation of them. Look no further than his August 1916 memorandum.

The intervening quarter of a century might well have blunted his faculties, but I reckon he was reconciled to the wing and a prayer shambles of these early raids as a painful means of gaining experience.

Brian, you’re so steeped in knowledge about this topic that I feel myself to be “ farting against the thunder”, and hope you’ll forgive me for venturing opinions about things that I know little about.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
12/2/2021 9:19:08 PM
Colin and Phil, interesting points, and worth some exploration. Before, let me add two more questions. The first three were:
• was it as badly broken as it appeared to be after 7/8 November?
• was it fixed?
• did anyone want to fix it?

Think about these two extras:
• were there other solutions to the problems BC faced than the one chosen, if in fact choosing Harris was considered the fix?
• what would the cost be to a more radical change of course, particularly with no guarantee a change would improve things?

Colin, you say: Quote:
I think it would be ridiculous of anyone to suggest Bomber Command was a highly functioning military organisation in 1941 or even 1942. Clearly the Allies wanted a way to strike directly at Nazi Germany immediately, as they were unable to do so with their respective armies and navies.

Fair point. It had been in business since April1 1918, and had embraced strategic bombing almost from its inception. They had the theory down pat; they just didn’t know how to execute. But surely the point is that the RAF was not striking directly at the enemy. It was attempting to strike at the enemy, and by and large failing (at a guess) about 80% of the time. I think it would be fair to suggest that the British and Commonwealth troops in North Africa had had a good run at bashing the enemy until WSC’s disaster in Greece, followed by his worse disaster in Crete and his reverse of fortunes in North Africa with the introduction of the Afrika Korps. Yet this might support Phil’s comment about “hitting back”. Quote:
I'm sure the hierarchy wanted it fixed - any fix would do - but clearly everyone was learning as they went along.

Acute point. In reality, some fixes were possibly better than others.Quote:
Might there also be another element here we haven't acknowledged? Sending airmen to their deaths over Germany somewhat placated the Soviet Union, who were doing the vast bulk of the fighting and dying against Nazi Germany and were demanding an Allied contribution/diversion to take the pressure off in any way. Perhaps the Allies were willing to accept the heavy losses of the air campaign to demonstrate to Stalin that they were at least doing some of the dying?

I’m not sure of the timetable here, to be honest. Russia had been under attack for less than four months on 7/8 Nov 1941. Most pundits were still expecting the Soviet Union to collapse under German aggression; some were amazed it had not already collapsed. I believe (not wanting to stop to check exact dates) that Britain was already instituting convoys to Russia, but can’t remember whether US Lend-Lease was functioning. I also don’t know when Stalin began pushing for a “Second Front Now”, but I had not thought it was this early in Barbarossa. IIRC, the issue of a second front became a Summit issue only in Tehran in late 1943. I seem to remember that a “second front” movement grew rather earlier than Tehran in the US, but only after PH.

Phil, you raise an interesting adjunct to Colin’s questions. Quote:
Placating the Soviets was surely an important feature of the determination to press home attacks against the German people.

Placating the British people themselves might have been to the fore as well.

Until the high summer of 1941, British civilian deaths from aerial bombardment exceeded those of military personnel in action.

Hitting back was an important attribute of morale.

Huge statements! And perhaps your comments capture more accurately than I realize the British civilian view of the war. Have I been seduced by the “That old ‘itler!” over-the-back-fence image? I agree that the Ministry of Information – let’s face it, really a Ministry of Propaganda with kinder aim than that of Germany – was pushing Germany’s redirection of their war effort from England to Barbarossa as an English victory. That was nonsense, of course, given Britain’s given losses to civilians. But you are right: making that argument demands reciprocal punishment. And i wasn’t happening

The truth about RAF BC lack of success was certainly kept from the public. It may be that it was largely kept from BC aircrew as well. They would be aware of the empty mess benches, so were fed adulterated or unassessed success numbers to maintain morale. I think that was a bad decision, and might be part of an argument about RAF bombing assessments after the war, when the major line of remorse was some BS about “If only I had known what we were doing!”.Quote:
The arithmetic was grotesque , judging by what Brian has revealed. Surely the disparity between the loss rates and the damage inflicted was kept secret from the public. I’m convinced that Churchill himself was under no illusions in this regard : he was not one to subscribe to group think, and his record in the Great War stands as a reminder that he was conspicuous in his discernment of statistical data, and his determination to challenge interpretation of them. Look no further than his August 1916 memorandum.

WSC was, IMHO, fully conscious of what was happening in RAF Bomber Command. And he was for the most part a pragmatist (though he was a blind, unthinking believer in Empire). His worst decisions (IMHO) were made based on his political/imperial biases; his best on real situations. He recognized the need for a force like Bomber Command to carry the war to the enemy immediately after the Battle of Britain: you don’t win a war through successful defence.

I don’t know for certain WSC called for a reduction of major aggressive ops after 7/8 Nov 41.

I do have to note that the RAF would be challenged again with the successful German “Channel Dash” of 11/13 Feb 1942. This was IMHO a two-service bugger up, with the RN carrying the biggest can. I don’t have anywhere near enough time to fit that within my own military concerns. But it took “D notices” and War Cabinet involvement to keep this German success from possible public debate.

Enough for now. Food beckons.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 781
Joined: 2005
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
 Today 6:53 AM  
Quote:

WSC was, IMHO, fully conscious of what was happening in RAF Bomber Command. And he was for the most part a pragmatist (though he was a blind, unthinking believer in Empire). His worst decisions (IMHO) were made based on his political/imperial biases; his best on real situations. He recognized the need for a force like Bomber Command to carry the war to the enemy immediately after the Battle of Britain: you don’t win a war through successful defence.
Brian G


Hi Brian,

Apologies for delay in picking this up. I was interested in your comment that Churchill was a 'blind, unthinking believer in Empire'. I'd hazard most the population of the UK was at this time also in possession of this mindset. The Labour government that came in after the war got rid of the Indian problem asap (as if by walking away they solved it), but largely ran the remaining colonies as they had been in the previous generation. The British people, outside of the diminishing Communist movement, accepted the responsibilities and benefits of the Empire and Commonwealth.

With that in mind, Churchill was tasked firstly with protecting the UK homelands and waters, then with wider imperial defence. Churchill operated on a premise that the Empire would survive as it had done (although it wouldn't for long) and that the tight bonds between the 'white' Commonwealth would last as they had (they ultimately wouldn't). Was anyone else suggesting otherwise in mainstream British politics at the time? I can't think of anyone. Wild expeditionary gambles aside - and we've discussed the Italian campaign elsewhere - Churchill acted as I imagine any British PM in the height of a global war may have done.

Sorry, this has derailed the topic at hand, but I felt it worth further examination.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3882
Joined: 2004
RAF BC Winter Quarters, 1941
 Today 5:19 PM  
Colin. Strangely, I get what you’re saying. I’m a Commonwealth member, but was born so long ago (1941) that my early schooling (and training in British history) was delivered by young British women who had lost their menfolk during the war and emigrated to Canada immediately after the war ended. We learned to sing “Rule Britannia” and “The Maple Leaf Forever” (with the unforgettably inane lines: “The thistle, shamrock, rose entwined!/The maple leaf forever!”). We learned there were no sunsets on us. We learned, via first-hand experience, the importance of and significance of the monarchy with the death of George VI and the ascension of Elizabeth II. Hell, my father even drove only British cars (Austins and Rileys) until he discovered Volvo in 1962!

That was, I might argue, normal patriotism for the time. And I think your comments about “most of the population of the UK” is meant to capture the same normality I experienced. Good, honest love of country.

I continue to sense the WSC believed in and supported the Empire of the Boer War, or even the Empire of 1914. I guess I’m thinking more of a tone-deaf belief in Empire in the face of the realities of British Imperial powers which were under challenge by the mid-1930s. WSC was fighting to maintain a vision that simply didn’t exist. Gandhi, the Malay States and other tensions in Burma and the like indicated that there was little of a valid, unified Empire left.

To be honest, I don’t know what WSC was “tasked” with, or in what order. He became PM not by popular vote but by parliamentary manipulation. He could easily have lost his bid to Halifax, who would have read his “tasks” very differently than WSC did. More correctly, he would have seen the solutions to be different from Churchill’s.

In retrospect, I’m glad the argument went for WSC and against Halifax, as I’m glad that WSC was able to quell Halifax’s challenge in cabinet. Nonetheless, I believe WCS’s focus on a multinational structure much less imperial than he recognized caused him to make some very bad decisions.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.

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