Bomber Harris, not a happy man (6)

In his excellent book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”, Roy Irons is not slow to reveal the fact that it was absolutely typical of the attitudes of the RAF in the 1920s and 1930s to have carried out absolutely no research whatsoever on new bombs for the any future war. No attempts whatsoever were made to produce a very large bomb of a very high standard that would do the enemy very real harm. Instead, bombs, quite simply, did not ever change and new aircraft were designed just to accommodate the old bombs rather than to carry a four thousand pounder, an eight thousand pounder or even a twelve thousand pounder, bombs which were  actually quite simple to produce. Here is the 4,000lb “cookie”:

And the 8,000 lb cookie, made by joining two 4,000 pounders together, with a large spanner and a few nuts and bolts:

And the 12,000 pounder “cookie”, produced in pretty much the same way:

Thin skinned and full of high explosive, this was one of the earliest “blast bombs”. None of the three would fit into any of the old bombers without modifications.

Here are the old style bombs being put into the bomb bay of an antiquated Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Even the tractor looks tired:

The real issue, though, was the incorporation of aluminium into the explosive mix of British WW2 bombs. The addition of aluminium as a fuel for the explosion really makes things go with a bang, as you might say. The Germans knew all about this, and all of their bombs contained aluminium, and could be up to 80% fiercer than a British bomb of the same size.

Harris was continually incensed about the way different groups in the civil service and the armed forces would rather fight each other, than the enemy. This statement is totally typical of Harris’ opinion of civil servants:

“individuals in civil service departments seem to be fighting a different war, if indeed they are fighting a war at all.”

The aluminium in bombs is a fine example. The Royal Navy had known all about it since the beginning of the First World War in 1914. So had the army, who used aluminium based explosives to blow up Messines Ridge in 1917. In this case it was ammonal:

But neither they nor the Navy had bothered to tell the fledgling RAF, perhaps because they wanted to cause the new force harm in any way possible. Harris complained of the:

“failure of communication between departments responsible for strategy, for raw materials and for research”.

As far as the latter is concerned, by the second and third years of the war, there was such a shortage of aluminium that the RAF was unable to carry out hardly any research at all. Only by late 1943 and 1944 were aluminised bombs being dropped over the Reich. Churchill himself said that it was all the fault of the Static Detonations Committee. Their role, admitted Churchill, the Prime Minister, was

“More static than detonating”.

Exactly the same kind of problems with lazy, self centred civil servants was encountered with incendiary bombs. Four million incendiaries were dropped per month, but completely separately. Falling from four or five miles up, but weighing only four pounds, they could fly or glide literally miles from the target. There was absolutely no control over them:

The problem was that a cluster bomb of some kind was needed. A weapon that would weigh perhaps 12,000lbs and contain 3,000 incendiary bombs. It would be dropped from 20,000 feet and release all of its little fireflies at 5,000 feet. Harris asked again and again for the weapon to be developed but by May 8th 1945, the government departments had done absolutely nothing and cluster bombs of this type were never used during WW2. Nowadays they are banned by the majority of countries:



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

39 responses to “Bomber Harris, not a happy man (6)

  1. Sounds very much like Tory planning for Covid!

    • I think it’s like the English planning for more or less everything to be honest. It all comes from the ridiculous English idea that people can only do top jobs if they have been to particular universities or if they are related to previous top job holders. You merely finish up with more dead wood than Sherwood Forest in a hurricane.

  2. Jan

    It would be very interesting to compile a list of the top 100 British war contractors (by value) and see how many of the companies still exist: I suspect very few. Whereas in Germany you have Daimler-Benz, Krupp, Siemenns, Rheinmetal, KdF (sorry VW) etc. still going strong.

    • We used to have a house built by Costain who made all their capital by building runways. Don’t get me started on the German firms. They were mostly war criminals and should all have been put on trial.
      These were the figures I used when teaching about the Holocaust to Year 9 classes. The numbers are the totals of slave workers the companies had :

      BASF (80,000), Bayer which does not mention the war in its official history of the firm (80,000), BMW (50,000), Bosch (20,000), Daimler (40,000), Hoechst (80,000), Thyssen-Krupp (75,000), Volkswagen, who had “dying rooms” (12,000).
      Siemens refused to provide any figures
      Adidas and C & A were “still working” on the wartime history of their respective companies

      Overall, two million slaves were brought to Germany. The vast majority, especially Poles and Russians, were to die.

      And, I nearly forgot, Allianz did the insurance at Auschwitz.

  3. I think in the past we saw different departments refusing to ‘compare notes’ about operations, not just in the military. But in today’s world, where even the most secret of plans can be found on the internet, it is more difficult to pull it off.

    • Yes, I sometimes wonder what a secret is, in the modern world. I remember a few years back being amazed to see, in a toy shop, a plastic construction kit of a top secret plane that the Americans had not yet even admitted they possessed. That must surely make it rather difficult to get away with anything, what with the aircraft kit manufacturers and all those 15 year old hackers dotted around the world.

  4. Now look where we are with bombs

    • Yes indeed, there is certainly no shortage whatsoever of bombs, irrespective of who or where you might be. I suppose all that can be said is that at least we have no cluster bombs, although that must be of very little comfort to the people being attacked with the 57 varieties of other bombs.

  5. All your stories about men and war, John, all point out how these men had a physical enemy and were willing to fight it. Today in my humble opinion, we are smack in the middle of WW3 and no one especially those caught in the spiderweb of fear, is fighting against the invisible evil that has encroached upon this earth. Have you thought along these lines, curious minds ask?

    • Canadian author Mark Steyn, in his book America Alone, writes about the very same.

      • *goosebumps* Huge confirmation for me that my Inner Guidance is spot on. There is so much “bad karma” upon America that in order for it to be cleansed, so much horror first must unfold to be released. I have deliberately withdrawn from the continual nightmares all around all of us to recreate my life that is best for me after it was destroyed in March. I live in NY. Yes, the center of corruption. Yet, that being said if I can create a life of love and peace in the middle of a cesspool, anyone anywhere can. Bless you, Christoph!!

      • PS I did watch some of the video just enough to clarify what I know to be true. I am very limited right now what I watch being just too sensitive. I’m rebuilding my life right now, as I see the world around me dissolving. I again thank you. We all have to SEE that the weapon of fear is the main attack and once we get away from that attack, cease fire exists.

    • Yes, Amy, it had occurred to me recently that we are currently fighting WW3. Funnily enough, it wasn’t that long ago that I was thinking that both grandfathers had fought in WW1, my Dad had fought in WW2 and that now I am too old for that kind of thing, I would surely escape. Alas, I fear not, and I just do what I can.
      I wash my hands, wear a mask and keep up social distancing. That reduces the risk enormously. In terms of others, don’t ever touch anybody outside the people who live in your house, and if anybody does not have a mask on, steer well clear of them. Covid-19 from a sneeze reaches 200mph and is very difficult to dodge!!

      • Very astute of you, John. I’ve been observing this “virus” and as an RN know it is not acting like a normal virus. Its patterns make no sense. I’ve concluded this is biological warfare we are currently experiencing, and it is most definitely man-made. I understand what you mean by saying you are too old for this kind of thing, believe me. My whole world was torn from me without any warning leaving me struggling for months to not only get a grasp on life again, but also figuring out how to recreate my life within the midst of evil. I’m getting there.
        You do what you feel is best for you. We all have to. I am seeing with my own eyes not only the systematic destruction of my state (NY) but the entire country at large as well. I’m keeping my head as low as possible to dodge the incoming “shock bullets”. Thank you for agreeing with me. It takes a big mind to see the big picture … worldwide dominance. Hang in there!!

  6. Pierre Lagacé

    Still learning about WWII and also about WWIII John.

  7. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on RCAF 425 Alouettes and commented:
    Sixième article de John Knifton sur Bomber Harris

  8. Fascinating and now we are fighting something which has such a control over us !!
    I am reading this book. It is fascinating, about the First World War.
    The Indian Empire at War – Colours of Glory

    • Sometimes, children ask each other “If you were a superhero, what power would you have?” Well for me, it would be the ability to read at super-speed like Superman. There are so many to read and, relatively, so little time.
      This book, though sounds exactly like the book for me, so I will buy a copy and move it to the head of the queue.
      Thank you for the link. I just wish I could remember who the teenage Indian boy was who was unaware of his ancestors’ great bravery in both world wars.

  9. Fascinating reading John. You do wonder how far we would have got had civil service departments, and even the various branches of the forces, actually worked together rather than focusing on the back biting and oneupmanship that seemed to take precedence. We could have been leaders in a huge range of areas (then we could have sold it to the Americans of course!).

    • I’m sure we could have done, but the problem was clearly that the various factions were never ever going to work together for the common good of the country, as Harris was quick to recognise.
      It’s actually a little like the present crisis. We can all see what needs to be done to beat the virus, but a significant proportion of fools want to be able to have holidays, have parties, to go to the beach and so on. A couple of months of following three simple rules, plus nobody in or out at the borders, and we would see that covid-19 can become a toothless tiger.
      But too many people only follow the rules when threatened with prison, and too many refuse to give up their family commitments, such as meals, birthdays and so on, even when Granny might finish up as Dead Granny. Some even see a pandemic as a chance for them to make money.

      Until those attitudes change, we will remain a second rate nation, with a lot more casualties than we need have had.

  10. Joe M

    Interesting read, reminds me of the movie Operation Pacific ( 1951 ) starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal among others. In one scene they were testing torpedo, trying to determine why so many of them failed to detonate on impact, which was based on real world scenarios.

    One issue with the Mark 14 was they were using the firing mechanism from older slower torpedos, and never tested it on the newer faster torpedos. They assumed it would work.

    Then Momsen told Lockwood that it should be possible to rebuild the contact exploder with different materials. The exploder had to be both light and strong. Exotic alloys proved to be the key. The machine shop at the Sub Base obtained light alloys, from, remarkably enough, the melted-down engine ( aluminum ) of a Japanese fighter that had been shot down during the Pearl Harbor attack. New firing pins, springs, and guide tracks were machined and assembled. The new designs were tested and performed exactly as hoped. Yet, the project needed a lot more metal than one engine could provide. Another source was found at Hickam Army Airfield. Aircraft propellers had to be both light and strong. One Army Air Forces officer supposedly said after being asked for as many damaged propellers as he could find, “A better use for a busted prop could not be found anywhere.

    Aluminum was the answer in both of these cases…

    • Thank you so much, Joe M. You could not have found a better example of how a little bit of “thinking outside the box” can get results. And then we see the kind of energy that Bomber Harris would have approved off…..people getting off their backsides and finding damaged propellers and then putting them to a much better use.
      And thanks again for a really interesting contribution.

  11. It was very tough for Bomb e r Harris indeed.

    • It certainly was, but he was a very tough character himself. He had emigrated to Southern Rhodesia and always called himself a Rhodesian, so he was used to being self reliant. That’s what gets you a statue in the middle of London!

  12. Chris Waller

    One can entirely understand Harris’s frustration. He must have felt he was fighting a war on two fronts – one of them against civil service complacency and torpor.

    • And don’t forget the Royal Navy.
      “Can I have a few Coastal Command Hudson bombers just to make the numbers up for our first 1000 bomber raid over Cologne?”
      “All right. We’ll have to see what Mr Churchill says.”
      And , of course, Churchill said yes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.