Bomber Command: The Men, Machines and Missions: 1936-1968
This book tells the history of Bomber Command and emphasise its importance after the 1940 Battle of Britain when the tide of war changed, and assets became available to enable bombing of the enemy’s resources. The controversial military and political decisions that were made, for and against, area and strategic bombing will be addressed.
The entire organisation, Groups, Squadrons, Stations and the aircraft of Bomber Command, depended on the brave men and women that supported the Command’s ability to bring the bombing campaign to the enemy, night after night, despite appalling losses. Perhaps the most well known story to the general public is Wing Commander Guy Gibson and the ‘Dam Buster’ 617 RAF Squadron and its Avro Lancaster aircraft on the mission to destroy dams in the industrial Ruhr Valley in Germany.
This is their wartime story, spectacular successes and failures, that continued in peacetime as a strategic nuclear strike force into the early 1960s.
Chapter 1: Pre-Bomber Command Years
Bomber Command in the Second World War was a direct descendent of the First World War strategic bombing forces. The policy and strategic bombing philosophy were, in the hands of bomber command, subject to the overall aims of the political war effort. Initially as the threat grew it was the junior player in the build- up of arms. Being an island, it was the navy that got the priority followed by the defensive air force. The striking power of Bomber Command in the early years was limited to leaflet dropping, defensive patrols, and a disastrous attempt at daylight raids on the heavily protected German Navy. Bomber Command initially lagged in manpower and advanced aircraft but continued to grow and by 1942, under a new Commander-in-Chief Air Marshall A. T. Harris, the tables turned with nighttime area bombing done by heavier and more numerous bombers.
Chapter 2: Bomber Command Organisation 1936-1945
Bomber Command eventually increased to thirteen Groups to meet organisational requirements, each with its own headquarters under the command of at least a Group Captain, an Air Vice-Marshall if a front-line Group. The No. 2 Group was the first group formed in March 1936, a scant three years before its first operational mission in September 1939. Perhaps the most famous of all the Groups was No. 8 Group, the Pathfinder Force. This initiative would raise Bomber Command to new heights of productivity through more accurate bombing. Canada eventually formed its own Group, No. 6, later in the war.
Chapter 3: Bomber Command Squadrons
If No. 8 Group was the most known among the Groups, then the Royal Air Force No. 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, flying from Royal Air Force Scampton, Lincolnshire, was most known for its daring 1943 raid and destruction of dams in the Ruhr Valley with the ensuing devastation by the escaping flood water. At various times during the war there were over a hundred and thirty active squadrons in Bomber Command. Some of these squadrons could trace their lineage back to the Royal Flying Corps before the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918.
Chapter 4: Bomber Command Stations
Due to its proximity to Germany, many of the Bomber Command squadrons were stationed in Lincolnshire, and it became known as the ‘Bomber County’. Today Lincolnshire is home to the International Bomber Command Centre at Canwick Hill and the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. Both continue to preserve the Second World War history of Bomber Command in the twenty-first century.
Chapter 5: Bomber Command Aircraft & Engines
The twenty-one inter-war years saw the development of bomber aircraft that ranged from the single-engine biplane, Hawker Hind (1936); to the single-engine monoplane, Fairey Battle (1937); and to the twin-engine monoplane, Vickers Wellington (1938). These aircraft were followed during the war years by the emergence of the four-engine heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster (1942) being the most recognised. These aircraft are just a few examples of the many aircraft manufacturers and types that were such an important part of Bomber Command.
Chapter 6: Bomber Command Aircrew
Training was an essential part of the success of Bomber Command. The trades that looked after the aircraft and the crews that flew them had to be trained to the highest possible standard in spite of the limitations of wartime conditions. The aircrew would start at an Initial Training Wing in England and then many would finish overseas away from the constant danger of enemy bomber attacks. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was a cooperatively funded training venture among the Commonwealth countries, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The Plan was primarily located in the wide-open ‘safe from threat’ skies of Canada.
Chapter 7: Bomber Command Operations 1939-1945
There has been some criticism of the extent and scope of Bomber Command operations in the past. However, the German war machine did not hold back from the very beginning with the invasion of Poland. Talk to the Polish military personnel and civilians involved and it has been described as a total onslaught, a Blitzkrieg. Negotiation should be met with negotiation, force with force and total force with total force. The dictionary says that area is ‘part, zone, extent, and region’ and that strategic is ‘planned, tactical, intentional, and calculated’. This would seem to indicate that Area Bombing could be Strategic Bombing and that Strategic Bombing could be Area Bombing. What would cause these two terms to be used? They were previous political masters that established the conventions of conducting war by the military and the rules of engagement. These rules, directives, and orders could be, and were, changed by the political leaders as they realised that they had “restricted or limited” the military in their operation to the detriment of the war effort.
Chapter 8: Bomber Command 1945-1968
Post-war the role of Bomber Command gradually changed during the ‘Cold War’ years to a nuclear strike capability and in 1968 it merged with Fighter Command to form Strike Command. The last piston engine bomber aircraft developed during the war years, the Avro Lincoln, was replaced with the jet engines of the English Electric Canberra and the V Bomber aircraft.