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

52 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.

  13. Jan

    A-bomb Lancasters over Japan!

    • In actual fact, my Dad was down to go to Japan, but he was away on a radar course when the other men got the necessary injections for the diseases endemic in Japan. The doctor, however, just gave my dad all the injections one after another, so he caught every serious Japanese disease at once.
      Needless to say, he nearly died, and didn’t get out of bed for a fortnight.
      Some military doctors in those days were not really up to much!

  14. Pierre Lagacé

    John, I want your opinion of the controversy surrounding the Nurember raid on 30/31 March, 1944 and Operation Fortitude. The controversy is that the Germans were notified of the raid in advance by a double agent so it gave this double agent credence about what he was relaying to the Germans about D-Day being planned for the Pas-de-Calais.

    • Sorry about the delay in replying.
      I am not really one for conspiracy theories but I cannot imagine that the British would have sacrificed so many aircraft and so many men’s lives in an effort to convince the Germans to believe a lie about the location of the invasion. And if the British knew that the man was a double agent, what was stopping the Germans from working the same thing out for themselves?
      If lives were to be risked, the British top brass would have chosen lives that they considered to be not quite as important as British lives. And according to Dr Jean –Pierre Ducellier, in his book “The Amiens Raid”, that is exactly what they did, in the attack on the prison at Amiens.
      Dr Ducellier has made researching this attack his life’s work and the book is superb, with no stone left unturned in the search for truth. And I am pretty sure that he has found it. The jail was attacked to puzzle the Germans as to why the RAF bothered with such an attack near the Pas de Calais. And as Amiens jail was full of local people, so the reason must have been that an unknown local man either was very important for the invasion or that he knew things that were very important for the invasion….which would be in the Pas de Calais.
      You can reject that if you like, but Dr Ducellier’s work is a labour of love and he is trying to discover the truth by every means open to him. His scholarship is undoubted, and even I, as an Englishman, accept what he has come up with.
      I hope that this helps.
      The book is….

      • Pierre Lagacé

        Thanks John for this input. Indeed it does not make a lot of sense either that they would do such a thing.

      • Pierre Lagacé

        This is what I had stumbled upon John…

        More about the raid…

        Fact or fiction?

        The synopsis

        The Nuremberg Raid is a two-hour investigative documentary film designed for the History Channel, attempting to reveal the cause of British Bomber Command’s deadliest night of the Second World War. The film reconstructs the crucial 24-hour timespan of Bomber Command’s controversial raid that claimed the lives of over 700 airmen and the destruction of 94 aircraft. Aided by eye-witness interviews, historical evidence and recently declassified information three historians combine decades of research to cast new light upon a raid shrouded in conspiracy theory. By revisiting the carnage of the Nuremberg Raid through a modern lens, this film provides an unprecedented opportunity for a new generation to rediscover Second World War technologies, secret intelligence operations and ultimately bring closure to Bomber Command’s deadliest night.

        The story

        To many people the sacrifices the United Kingdom endured through the grueling months of the Battle of Britain are well known. What is not well known is that across the span of a few chaotic hours on the night of March 30/31, 1944, the RAF losses surpassed those of the entire Battle of Britain. The Nuremberg Raid was an unequivocal disaster for British Bomber Command. Bomber Command Headquarters concluded a combination of poor weather, German tactical advances and misfortune were the primary components that ultimately led to the disaster.
        But for years lingering rumors quietly persisted that the raid was intentionally compromised by the Allies; sacrificed to the Double Cross System of turned German spies in an elaborate effort to keep Adolph Hitler uncertain about the Normandy Invasion launched just two months after the raid. Captured German spies were basically presented with two options: be hanged as a spy or fully cooperate with MI5 as British double agents and pass disinformation back to the Germans. Most of the German spies chose life and cooperated with the British. The Double Cross operation became an integral part of the Allied pre D-Day disinformation campaign (specifically known as Operation Fortitude) designed to convince Hitler and Germany that the anticipated Allied landings on D-Day would target the Pas de Calais, not the shores of Normandy. The obvious object of the deception was to cause the Germans to weaken their Normandy defenses, concentrating their main forces, particularly their Panzer divisions, in the area of Pas de Calais thereby greatly increasing the odds of a successful Allied landing at Normandy. The troubling rumors that have persisted regarding the Nuremberg raid allege that MI5, in an effort to enhance the bona fides of their double agents during the run-up to D-Day, allowed the actual details of the Nuremberg raid to be passed by double agents to the Germans. As the conspiracy theory goes, by passing the specific details of the Nuremberg raid MI5 helped convince the Germans that their spy networks were providing incredibly accurate intelligence setting the stage for the larger Allied disinformation campaign focusing on D-Day.

        For over 70 years answers eluded historians…until now. Investigative historian Mark Chandler, with over forty years of Bomber Command research, takes us on a journey back in time into the heart of Bomber Command. Reinforced by Steve Bond, a Luftwaffe technological expert and John Stubbington, author of Kept In The Dark – The Denial to Bomber Command Of Vital Ultra And OtherIntelligence Information During World War ll, newly declassified material breaks through 70 years of conspiracy theory and allegations of incompetence on the part of Bomber Command finally revealing¬ the true cause of the disastrous Nuremberg Raid.

        The documentary focuses not only on solving the mystery of what went horrifically wrong on the night of March 30/31, but also on the technological advances of the combatants, espionage intrigue, and the young airmen who risked their lives for freedom. By profiling this raid in a fresh perspective using a mix of on-camera interviews, archival footage, 3D animation and reenactments, this project will finally close the case on one of World War Two’s most elusive mysteries.

      • Pierre Lagacé

        I don’t even know it that documentary about the Nurember raid was ever released. The Website does not tell much about any release or critics. Very strange. I also went on Facebook and Twitter to find more information, but everything is dated around 2013.

      • If there had been a documentary about the Nuremberg raid, I would have watched it! A lot gets repeated on that channel and I am sure that I would not have missed it. Personally, I wouldn’t waste time on it. It’s just the sensationalism that you always get on Satellite TV.

      • Pierre Lagacé

        Since there is nothing on the Internet about it being broadcasted, this is proof enough.

      • Yes, that’s the book I have although I’m not too sure what input came from Simon Parry. Throughout the book Dr Ducellier speaks as if he is the only one deciding what gets written, if I can put it that way. Perhaps the Daily Mail thinks all foreigners need an Englishman to help them with what they’re doing, like an adult leading a child!

      • Pierre Lagacé

        Thanks John.

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