Category Archives: Bomber Command

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:

 

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“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (2)

As I said a couple of days ago when I was talking about Volume One of “In the Footsteps of the Valiant”, I had hoped to portray the High School’s war dead as real human beings rather than just a surname and a set of initials in a very long list of names. That is why I tried so very hard to unearth a great number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray them all as rounded young men rather than just a couple of lines in the School List:

Some of them I could only present as adults because there were no photographs of them as boys.

Alfred Chenhalls was the personal friend and accountant of Leslie Howard, “The Man Who Gave a Damn”. He had lived at 2 Hamilton Drive in The Park, his family occupying the whole house, not just a flat as it would be nowadays:

Edwin Thomas Banks lived at No 7 Rutland Road in West Bridgford. As I discovered from his squadron’s log book, he was killed flying his Gloster Gladiator biplane into Lake Ioannina in Greece. He was buried with a full military funeral and a large number of Greek Generals in attendance. As one of his friends said: “coldest wait ever.”  At school, Edwin had been a keen rower: “Not very heavy but a hard worker. He sits the boat well. There was a noticeable improvement in the Second Crew when he stroked it. Although he has a good beginning he is still rather short.” As well as short, he is also rather blurred in the only picture I could find of him :

Howard Rolleston Simmonds lived at 28 Nottingham Road in Bingham. He went to Canada to learn to fly, one of the 131,533 aircrew who graduated successfully from that enormous country, including the best part of fifty thousand pilots. Howard was sent to help look for a missing aeroplane, a Lockheed Hudson which had been lost off the coast of Nova Scotia. He was the pilot of an Avro Anson I, 652A, with a serial number of W1754. He and his crew just flew off and were never seen again and no wreck has ever been found. Here he is in uniform, proudly displaying his wings:

And here he is sitting in his Anson:

John Harold Gilbert Walker was a Spitfire pilot who was shot down over northern France in 1941. The objective was the railway marshalling yards at Hazebrouck on the outskirts of Dunkirk and four squadrons of Spitfires, including Nos 118 and 457, were escorting just six Douglas Boston Mark III bombers. He was already a veteran of the Battle of Britain, flying a Bristol Blenheim nightfighter:

Keith Henry Whitson served in India with the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. He survived the war only to perish at Pindi-Khut eight months or so after the end of hostilities. Interestingly, Pindi-Khut seems to have disappeared from the map since World War Two. Again, the only photograph I could get hold of is not particularly sharp :

William Ray Llewellyn from “Torisdale” in Devon Drive in Sherwood and then 136 Melton Road in West Bridgford. He appeared in two school plays. In the first, he played a young woman in “The Admirable Crichton” by JM Barrie. He really was damned by faint praise: “The rest of the cast was quite adequate. I have no criticisms of WR Llewellyn as a Lady’s Maid.”

In what is now pretty much a forgotten play, “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” by Beaumont and Fletcher, he played one of the three Gentlemen who made up “The Spectators”. The overall verdict in the School Magazine was that: “the School play delighted me and many others too. The performance began in the most striking way, with three spot lit Elizabethan cavaliers coming right from the back of the hall up on to the stage. Llewellyn, Marchmont and Rowbotham were realistically discourteous spectators, and throughout their long period on the stage made the most of their restricted opportunities……. William’s little brother, Peter George Llewellyn, also had a rôle in the play. Looking tiny, he played three bit parts, Ralph’s Boy, the Soldier and the Dancer.”

Here he is :

The four actors are Russell Cruddas Lansberry, young Peter, Derrick John Turner and RN Walker (no such person) according to one page of the School Magazine and Robert Norman Walters according to the next page.

And little Peter got an excellent review: “Their fellow dancer, PG Llewellyn, shared their good delivery and confidence. As Ralph’s boy, he played his part with humour; as a pikeman he was certainly a menace.”

Again, the picture of his elder brother, William Ray Llewellyn, required a lot of work on Photoshop and is still very poor:

William went to meet his maker in what was then called Ceylon, a place he clearly adored:

“I beheld the dawn yesterday. Not from the foothills of the Himalayas, not even from the more prosaic bedroom window but from the cockpit of an Avenger bomber flying over Ceylon. We had all scrambled whilst it was still dark. The air was still and not a bump disturbed our passage.”

My team and I put a great deal of time into designing the cover. I don’t know if anybody looked at the photographs very carefully but they were all chosen carefully and with a definite link to an Old Nottinghamian in mind. There was a Handley Page Halifax:

There was a Bridge Too Far :

All of a RAF base’s airmen walking back to the Mess after a raid :

Here, Iranian women sit and watch British lorries invade their country with minimal opposition from the Iranian Army and a great deal of co-operation from the Soviet Army :

The most beautiful aeroplane ever built, the saviour of our country, and arguably, the world.

A T-class destroyer of the Royal Navy :

Here’s the return from Dunkirk :

And here’s a Wellington crew just back from Germany.

And this is the war in the North African desert, a location visited by a good many Old Nottinghamians with both the Sherwood Foresters and the South Notts Hussars:

 

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“In the Footsteps of the Valiant” : Volume One : the Verdict (1)

I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed with the sales of my first volume of  “In the Footsteps of the Valiant (Volume One)” :

I soon realised, though, that money was not important because I had achieved exactly what I had intended to do.

I had discovered as many hitherto unknown war dead from the High School as I was likely to, increasing previous lists by up to forty new names. I had found a number of men who had died serving their country but who, because they were not killed while “on active service”, gun in hand, had been largely ignored up till now.

I had also succeeded in finding out a large number of tiny details which I hoped would help to portray all of these valiant men as real human beings rather than just a surname and initials in a very long list of names.

In this first volume of five, the men concerned were John Edwin Armitage, Francis Nairn Baird, Edwin Thomas Banks, Philip Mackenzie Britton, Warren Herbert Cheale, Alfred Tregear Chenhalls, Paul Wilson Cherry, Walter Raymond Julyan Hoyte, Charles Davy Hudson, Robert Renwick Jackson, William Roy Llewellyn, Anthony Bertram Lloyd, Ian Mactaggart MacKirdy, Bruce Arthur Richardson, Wilfrid Henry Vivian Richiardi, Sidney Moger Saxton, Clifford Frank Shearn, Howard Rolleston Simmonds, Philip Bonnington Smith, Richard Christopher Sowerbutts, John Harold Gilbert Walker, Alfred Highfield Warren, Keith Henry Whitson and John Jeffrey Catlin.

I realised that I had succeeded in what I was trying to do when I received a most encouraging comment from an Old Nottinghamian, Richard Edwards:

“I used to see the names of these young men on the War Memorial at school, but I never properly made the link to them as people that had real lives, with successes and failures like the rest of us. John Knifton has done a great job to honour these men, but also to make others think about them as individuals who had the same hopes that we all do. A fantastic effort – well done – and I thoroughly recommend it to other potential readers.”

When I asked Mr Edwards for permission to use his comment in a blog post, he gave me an even more glowing reference:

“I think that you have done an astounding job, not just in gathering the facts, but in allowing us to see the list of dead as young men with personalities and as people that we could have known, could have laughed with and could have grown up alongside. What a great way of properly honouring those people.

I wish you all the best, and congratulations on doing something so important.”

And that is the reason that I included everybody’s examination results, where they lived, what kind of area it was, not nowadays, but back in the day, as our American friends say. And to that can be added every detail I could glean from a number of very large books, from twenty or so Directories of Nottingham by Kelly, White and Wright and from the entire internet, from Ethiopia to Paraguay.

And all that has helped to discover a little more about the boys who had reached the end of their school years with perhaps only five or ten years of their young lives remaining. In some cases only two or three.

Alfred Warren of 166, Derby Road, Nottingham. He was the son of a grocer and a superb female impressionist in school plays:

“The School stage has rarely been graced by a more charmingly seductive figure than the Anna Waleska of AH Warren.”

A year later:

“His part did not allow him this year the opportunity to display those feminine wiles of whichhe has shown himself so complete a master, but his expression, now wheedling, now indifferent, was no less successful in enticing the unfortunate victim into her trap. Perhaps he tended to overdo that half crouching feline posture but nevertheless, clad in exquisite garments, he contrived to overcome the artificialities and discrepancies of Lady Ciceley’s rôle, and for that achievement alone he deserves high praise.”

Bruce Arthur Richardson, who lived on Edwards Lane, in the big house diagonally opposite Oxclose Lane Police Station. In his school play, “Twelfth Night”, he

“became the very model of idiocy. His voice was a masterpiece: no voice could be more completely asinine. His continual foolish mien, with mouth agape, doltish wonderment in his eyes, no less than occasional inspired brilliance of acting–such as the windmill gestures which accompanied his threat to beat Viola “like a dog”– helped to make his part a pleasing success”.

John Harold Gilbert Walker of 787 Mansfield Road. As soon as he left the High School John applied for entrance to Sandhurst in an effort to become an officer in the Army, his dream job for many, many years. He was rejected.

His personal tutor wrote: “A sound fellow, with great keenness in OTC. Desirous of entering the Army as a career, but prevented by lack of means.”

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Keith Henry Whitson of Wensley Road, one of the six roads which share the amazing roundabout on Thackeray’s Lane in Arnold. His father was Frank H Whitson who gave his job for the School Register as a “Branch Manager”. His mother was Dot Whitson, short, presumably, for “Dorothy”. Killed after the war’s end, Keith is buried in Rawalpindi War Cemetery in distant Pakistan:

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (5)

According to Roy Irons in his splendid book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”, Arthur Harris hated the Short Stirling, but he reserved his finest vitriol for the Handley Page Halifax. Here’s a Mark I:

The Mark I had Merlins and a front turret but the Mark 2 had the Merlins and a different nose:

The Mark III has the familiar nose, but has a different tail and Bristol Hercules radial engines:

Harris was not alone though in his hostility towards the Halifax. It was well known fact that the Halifax could not lift its bombload up to 20,000 feet and that its range was too short to take any 0f the longer, more evasive routes as the Lancasters did. Per hundred tons of bombs dropped, the Lancaster lost only one third of the personnel who were killed in Halifaxes. Overall, three Halifaxes were lost to every two Lancasters and those two Lancasters dropped almost twice the weight of bombs dropped by the three Halifaxes.

Harris knew all of these basic facts about the Halifax but he also knew a great deal of other information which nobody else was given. Most of it came from the captured pilots of Junkers Ju88 nightfighters.  They reported that they “could normally approach our aircraft well within gun range and even up to fifty yards without apparently being seen at all”.

Here’s a Ju88 night fighter:

To prove the point, Harris borrowed a Bristol Beaufighter and its crew from 25 Squadron at RAF Wittering and had a Halifax bomber put to the test. The two crewmembers in the Beaufighter found that the Halifax bomber they were chasing had “inadequate exhaust dampers” which meant that the flames from the bomber’s engines were visible to the Beaufighter one and a half miles away. In contrast, the rear gunner of the Halifax could only see the Beaufighter if it was within 1100 yards, just over six tenths of a mile. And that was looking back in level flight. Harris found that the Halifax rear turret possessed “blindness in all directions, and especially downwards”. He stated that the turret was “80% angle iron and 20% scratched perspex”.

Only in 1944 did a turret which has the kind of visibility that is required become available. It was actually designed by Bomber Command themselves. This was the Rose turret, mentioned previously, which was designed, at the specific demands of Bomber Harris, by Air Vice Marshal Edward Rice.  Rice was one of the senior Bomber Command station commanders, and had travelled with Harris to visit Rose Brothers at the start of the project. He subsequently led No. 1 Group RAF. Here’s a Rose turret being fitted. Bigger, longer guns and no metal in the line of vision:

Harris called the Halifax “a deplorable aircraft” on more than one occasion. He thought that the aircraft and its dreadful Bristol Hercules engines were particularly well suited to each other and that these awful engines should be reserved exclusively for the Halifax, because “it’s useless anyway”. Harris despaired that:

“nothing whatever is being done to make this deplorable product worthy for war”.

Harris was no fool, though, and realised that:

“the two strongest motives of Englishmen in the aircraft industry are patriotic devotion and commercial gain. They will never think of new designs when more orders for the old ones are to be had. To obtain or maintain an order book, aircraft companies will promise anything”.

Occasionally, Harris put it more bluntly:

“Nothing will be done until Handley Page and his gang are kicked out, lock, stock and barrel.”

This could not be done though, and instead Handley Page continued to make Halifaxes and to sell them to the RAF, whose use of “this deplorable aircraft” was limited to attacking short range targets. The reason for this was that if the Halifax was abandoned, six months’ bomber production would have been lost, because all of the extra tools and facilities for producing Lancasters would have needed to be put into place.

Harris was convinced that the Bomber Command offensive was vital to winning the war. He had no patience whatsoever with any of the board members at either Handley Page or Shorts:

“Unless we can get the heavy bomber programme put right, we are sunk. We cannot do this by polite negotiation with these crooks and incompetents. In Russia it would long ago have been arranged with a gun, and to that extent, I am a fervid Communist.”

Just to make it 100% clear, the “crooks and incompetents” were Handley Page and his gang and Oswald Short and a good many others in his firm. And Harris wanted them all put against a wall and shot:

 

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (8)

Anthony Richardson’s third and final book of poetry was called “Full Cycle: Verses of the Royal Air Force” and was published in 1946:

Personally, I don’t like it anywhere near as much as his previous two books. He seems to have turned away from what I will call the “Forceful simplicity” of his first two books into something far more poetic and far more difficult to understand, almost as if he wants to show people that he has invented a special poet’s language all of his own. This is a very common fault among poets and it must lose them lots of ordinary readers. I have only picked one poem from this short book.

It is called “Request September 1939” and the poem lists the requests to Death, or God, made by a member of the armed forces, about to go to war and likely to die in the struggle ahead:

When the Judgment Day trumpet sounds, he would not want to be sent automatically to the battlements of Heaven to fight the armies of Satan, but would prefer to linger closer to Earth where everybody has always been so nice to him.

I do not know, incidentally what “earthy bred” is, and neither does Google. I suspect that “bred” is one of those words which, over the centuries, has suffered a reversal of a Consonant-Vowel combination inside it. “Brunley and brid” swapped their Vowel-Consonant combination round to become, “Burnley and bird” respectively. “Bred” would then produce “berth”, which is nowadays a specialised name for a place where you sleep. “Earthy bred” then becomes your grave.

Here are the six things he would like to hear:

But most of all, he used to be a fisherman:

Anthony Richardson seems to have given up poetry at this point. He moved to writing novels of various kinds, mostly about crime.

He must have made quite a bit of money from two very successful non-fiction books.

They were “Nick of Notting Hill: The bearded policeman. The story of Police Constable J. Nixon of the Metropolitan Police”:

Probably the most successful was “Wingless Victory” with Sir Basil Embry (1950), the story of Sir Basil’s escape from Nazi occupied France after his Lancaster was shot down. Even now, it’s a good read:

I have a hankering to return to the subject of poetry in RAF Bomber Command during World War Two. John Pudney is an obvious candidate, along with Henry Treece and the relatively little known George Eades.

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (4)

One point the author, Roy Irons, makes very strongly in his excellent book “The Relentless Offensive”, is that at the beginning of the war, Bomber Command had some really dreadful aircraft in service. The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley had, according to pilots, “little inherent stability”. It was “heavy and unpleasant on the controls” and “fatiguing to fly”. It was “difficult to navigate” and the most subtle of all, “as a flying machine, the Whitley has a very good undercarriage”. The Whitley also flew habitually at around 30° below the horizontal which caused an enormous amount of drag and very poor fuel consumption because of it:

The Hampden was a shocker, and a very narrow shocker at that, with a fuselage only three or four feet wide. Members of the crew could not pass each other, the body of the plane was so tight:

When the heavier bombers came in, two of them, in Harris’ view, were pretty useless. These were the Short Stirling and the Handley Page Halifax. Here is the Short Stirling:

The Short Stirling had “some vicious flying characteristics during take-offs and landings”. On take-off it exhibited a dreadful tendency to ground loop, which usually involved a collapse of the incredibly complex landing gear and the subsequent detonation of the bombload which would take the fuel tanks with it. On landing the Stirling had an unfortunate tendency to drop the last few feet, rather like the abrupt delivery of a hundred thousand bricks off the back of a lorry. This too would cause a collapse of the landing gear and a fire. Notice in this crash landing, how the front of the aircraft is completely burnt out. That, of course, is where the crew would have been:

It should perhaps be said that the argument could be put forward that the Stirling might possibly have been a much better aircraft if the original design had been followed. It was meant to be essentially a land-based Sunderland with a number of other modifications. This might well have produced a decent aircraft, but the Air Ministry also demanded a number of “extras”. It had to be easy to convert the bomber into a troop transport and there was a maximum figure not to be exceeded for the wingspan. With those “add-ons” the Stirling stood no chance.

Harris, though, was in no doubt whatsoever. He laid the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of the  the people in charge at Shorts:

“We shall get nothing worth having out of Shorts until Oswald Short and a good many others in the firm are thrown out on their ears. Sir Oswald Short is just an incompetent drunk. There should be a wholesale sacking of the incompetents who have turned out approximately 50% rogue aircraft from Short & Harland Belfast.”

Don’t hold back, Arthur, tell it to them straight!!

Here’s Sir Oswald:

As it was, Short’s didn’t do a great deal in six whole years of war. In satellite factories at Aldergrove and Maghaberry near Belfast they produced just under 250 Stirlings with a further 600 produced at Austin Motors at Longbridge in Birmingham. Blackburn Aircraft in Scotland produced 240 Sunderlands and a number of Handley Page Herefords which was a variant of the Handley Page Hampden. Both aircraft were shockers.

Can you spot the difference? No, it’s NOT that one of them is in the sky.

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (7)

Last time, we were looking at some poems from the book “These – Our Children”, by Anthony Richardson, published in 1943. I’d like to continue with that process.

The poem “Three went singing” is quite reminiscent of a previous poem called “There was an air gunner”:

In this poem, the three men, presumably fliers, are singing on their way back home down a country lane. Perhaps because they have been together in the pub, they are singing “Danny Boy” and other favourites.

“Dumpsy”, incidentally is a noun used in south west England to refer to twilight, and for Somerset folk it refers to “the quality of the light at dusk”. Sooo…. “the twilight is dusky”.

Other singers are better in various ways but slowly the three walk on and their voices grow first faint and then fainter still. The dusk grows dark and then darker until it swallows them up:

Clearly an almost mystical parallel with the fate of men lost on RAF operations. They are happy together as they laugh and joke, waiting to get into the aircraft and take off:

But then, Night claims them for her own and the men, whether three of them or seven, disappear and are lost for ever. Not even the tiniest stone retains an echo of their song . Night, aka Death, has them all in its grasp.

My last Richardson poem is called “To any Mother” and is simple to understand, even though it is “Poetry” and therefore may be perceived by many people as being way too difficult for them to enjoy. and indeed, nothing for them to be bothered with.

Here’s the beginning:

Then the poet asks if the mother taught her son what the parsons say, namely that it is just as easy for the spirit, the mind, to understand life at twenty as it is at eighty three:

So, it was not a dead end when he met “His Friend”, namely Death, because he also met his  comrades, his brothers from the crew, because they too, are now, all of them, dead.

And that discovery is no reason for misery.

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Bomber Harris, not a happy man (3)

As I mentioned in my two previous blog posts, Roy Irons’ book “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command” is one of the most informative I have ever read about the RAF’s bombing offensive over Germany, and the man from Southern Rhodesia in charge of it, Arthur Harris:

In the early years of the conflict, of course, the biggest problem faced by the RAF was that most fundamental of questions, namely whether the somewhat second rate aircraft of Bomber Command were actually hitting their targets in Germany:

An early attempt to find out the answer to that rather basic question was the Butt report, which examined night bombing by the RAF in as much detail as possible, and produced its rather disappointing conclusion in early August 1941.

The Butt Report discovered, for example, that most bombs dropped at night did not fall within five miles of their target. At the same time, though, the huge losses of aircraft and aircrew during daylight raids in 1939-1940 meant that the RAF could not possibly switch to that approach as a method of bombing the enemy with any claim to accuracy.

The only solution, therefore, was to continue with bombing at night, but, instead of worrying about civilian casualties, to pursue the Luftwaffe’s own tactic of bombing a whole area, rather than a specific target. Churchill and his war cabinet immediately ordered this change in policy from specific targets such as a factory or a railway junction, to the general bombing of an entire part of a city or town.

Area bombing, of course, could be extremely effective. It flattened the factories of the Third Reich and it destroyed the homes of the workers who worked there:

A new leader was appointed at Bomber Command to implement Churchill’s policy and to develop the tactics and technology to carry out the task more effectively. That man was Sir Arthur Harris, commonly known as “Bomber” Harris by the press and often within the RAF as “Butcher”. Harris was the most forthright of men and he did not suffer fools gladly:

Harris’ brief was to kill Germans. Anybody or anything which impaired the RAF’s ability to do this, he would subject to a severe tongue lashing. Even his ordinary opinions were extremely forthright, although there is little to fault in his thoughts about the conflict and what we had to do:

“War. The only thing that matters is that you win. You bloody well win !”

Such directness was why Harris ended up so hated by so many of his upper class superiors. He was, though, adored by the men under him, the “Old Lags” as he called them. Harris committed the cardinal sin of telling a large number of people, particularly those who outranked him, just how useless they were.

We have already looked at the problem of dropping bombs by night on, for example, the Gelsenkirchen tank factory and destroying it completely, but causing no damage whatsoever to the Gelsenkirchen Tea and Coffee shop next door.

That dilly of a pickle was solved, eventually, not just by the introduction of area bombing, but by improvements in the RAF’s technology and by training navigators until they knew what they were doing:

At the same time, another major problem was that enormous numbers of bombers were being shot down, either by flak or by nightfighters. This in turn, deprived Bomber Command not only of an expensive aircraft, but of a trained pilot, a trained navigator, a trained bomb aimer and any number of trained gunners and so on:

 

Many of these problems came from the fact that all British bombers were defending themselves with 0·303 guns, that is to say, guns of exactly the same calibre as an ordinary soldier’s rifle. In the 1920s, a lecturer at the RAF Staff College showed perhaps just how confused thinking was on this subject. Try as I might, I can make no sense of what he said:

“The aircraft gun is not likely to be required to penetrate armour and a couple of 0·5 inch bullets in a pilot will incapacitate him as much as the fragment of a one and a half pound shell. On the other hand a 0·303 bullet has but little effect on any aeroplane.”

Strange arguments, but whatever point is being made here, it is clear that the enemy pilot was being viewed as the target of the bomber’s defensive fire rather than his aircraft. All that was needed to hurt him was a rifle bullet, so the 0·303 gun was chosen. Here are the three turrets of a Lancaster:

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The official explanation for keeping the 0·303 guns was that eight 0·5 cannons, firing deadly explosive shells, were too heavy to be carried and would compromise the Lancaster’s bombload. Furthermore, the weight of the stored ammunition for the cannons would always affect the centre of gravity of the aircraft. That latter point is ridiculous, of course, because, in his design of any future bomber, the designer would automatically make due allowance for the weight of the ammunition, including any changes in that weight as the ammunition was used.

Not connected with this book by Roy Irons are the almost irresistible stories of aircrew using their initiative to protect themselves. Somewhere I have read of turrets being taken from the B-24 Liberator and used as rear turrets on Lancasters. Somewhere else I am reasonably sure that I have heard of unofficial swaps between the turrets from Lancasters and the turrets from Vickers Wellingtons.

Whatever the truth of this, The  RAF did order 600 Rose turrets in June 1944. They were equipped with the two of the standard American defensive weapons used in the turrets of the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator:

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The weapon in question was the American light-barrel Browning ·50-calibre AN/M2 heavy machine gun. Four hundred turrets were completed by the end of the war although only a mere one hundred and eighty  were fitted. Typical of Harris’ remarks was his statement that:

“this turret was the only improvement made to the defensive armament of the RAF’s heavy bombers after 1942, and those responsible for turret design and production have displayed an extraordinary disregard for Bomber Command’s requirements”.

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (6)

Last time, we were looking at Anthony Richardson’s best book of World War Two RAF, Bomber Command, poetry:

The next poem is “Spring 1942” and it is dedicated “To Vera : who always understood”. Richardson talks in the first two verses of how nature changes things when Spring arrives. “Pellucid” means “translucently clear, (of music or other sound) clear and pure in tone”. This is a daffodil, a word which is actually Latin and comes from “asphodilus”.

The natural world is teeming with babies for every creature. He calls their children “reincarnation of themselves”. So many animals and birds are out and about that even the owl, who normally sleeps during the day, has stopped his dreaming.

So too has Man changed his dreams and gone back to all the vile things that he was doing before the winter. These ideas are expressed by choice of words, all negative “pillage”, “death”, “fear” and “rotten”.

The last verse tells how we are now spending all our time doing nothing but killing, until the “tainted chalice” that is our lives is completely full of “…that red wine which only comes from killing”:

The last poem in this book is called “The Toast” and I am going to present just a few lines from it, with a little bit of explanation.

The first section of the poem for the most part talks of the Englishman’s heritage as a warrior. Much of it, I struggle to understand fully. But by the end, the poet invites his audience to raise their glasses in traditional fashion:

Then comes a reference to Lord Nelson’s famous signal before the Battle of Trafalgar:

“England expects that every man will do his duty”

Interestingly that famous sentence was not Nelson’s own original thought. The story is told by Lieutenant John Pasco, his signal officer:

“His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, “Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY“ and he added “’You must be quick, for I have one more to make. “ I replied, “If your Lordship will permit me to substitute the “confides” for “expects” the signal will soon be completed, because the word “expects” is in the vocabulary, and “confides” must be spelt, “His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, “That will do, Pasco, make it directly.”

“Confides”, incidentally, means  “is confident that”.

Thus, at around 11:45 a.m. on October 21st 1805, the famous signal was sent.

Richardson wrote in his poem, 137 years later:

England this Day expects . . .

Let the World crumble, if one of us forgets !

Gentlemen !

A toast ! Upraise each hand !

England, that shall be ours, this English land !

England whose seas we held, whose shores we manned !

Skies of England ! Cliff and fell and coast!

Youth of England, Gentlemen, your Toast !

Gentlemen, upon your feet !

The time is meet

For England !

 

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Literature, Politics, Writing

Bomber Harris, not a happy man (2)

The inaccuracy of Bomber Command’s raids during the first two or three years of the conflict is one of the main areas examined by author, Roy Irons, in his book, “The Relentless Offensive: War and Bomber Command”.

Reading about the navigational failures of the early war years, it does not come as much of a surprise to the modern reader when Irons reveals that:

“in the first 21 years of the RAF (1918-1939) very little emphasis was put on accurate navigation or bombing accuracy….. In January 1933, of 1,346 junior officers in the RAF, only 38 had taken and passed the ordinary specialist course in navigation”.

He continues: “In 1934, the officer in charge of the Air Defence of Great Britain admitted that:

“the ability of the RAF to fly at night and in all weathers compared unfavourably with Lufthansa who operated a service between Cologne and Croydon”.

Here is Lufthansa’s four engined, streamlined monoplane airliner, the Junkers G38:

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And here is the RAF’s Handley Page Heyford, which looks, quite simply, bizarre. Mr Handley Page will have a prominent place in Roy Irons’ book later on:

In January 1937, a paper was written by a Group Captain Maclean. It was called “The Problem of Bombing at High Speeds” and he concluded that:

“even under conditions of maximum visibility on the clearest days, bombing anything but an area target would be an impossibility, while in conditions of poor visibility and at night, this problem becomes completely impossible.”

The problem was that Bomber Command “needed to see the ground” all the way to the target. If the bombers were going to bomb Dortmund successfully, they needed to watch the countryside unfolding beneath them all the way there if they were to find the city, and that even in daytime.

In 1939, Sir Henry Tizard, the chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee, recommended the use of a sextant to all Bomber Command aircraft within 10-15 miles of the target, rather like Captain Hornblower against the French. This is not Captain Hornblower, by the way. No, this is Captain Ahab, who always preferred longer skirts as he had a false leg:

Sir Henry Tizard also felt that “nobody could guarantee accurate bombing unless they could see the ground”. Indeed, the results of Bomber Command’s bombing in the war’s early years were horrendous.  Slowly but surely, though, it came to be thought that trying to destroy specific targets was a complete waste of time, and highly trained lives. Accuracy was supposed to be “within 300 yards” of that specific target but a more accurate figure would have been a thousand  yards…more than half a mile.

These Vickers Wellingtons were constructed to high standards, but dropping bombs accurately on the target was not their strong point:

Can any more go wrong ? Well, what do you think ? Part Three very soon.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History