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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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The Avro Lancaster at Duxford, January 28th 2009

A few years ago, when I was still a teacher, along with four other teachers and more than a hundred members of Year 9, we all went in two coaches to Duxford near Cambridge to see the Imperial War Museum.  Look for the orange arrow:

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None of you will be surprised that the very first plane I rushed to see was the Avro Lancaster. The planes are rather crowded together, but there it was:

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There were trolleys and a little tractor to transport the bombs to the bomb-bay:

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The bomb-bay is enormous, and eventually would be capable of taking a ten ton bomb, the “Grand Slam”:

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The green cylindrical bomb in  the background in the below photograph is a blockbuster bomb or “cookie” and weighs 4,000 pounds which is around two tons. Quite often two of them were strapped together to make an 8,000 pound bomb. On occasion three of them would be bolted together to make things go with a real bang:

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This is the mid-upper turret, armed with two .303 Browning machine guns. The gunners were seldom particularly happy that a target was provided underneath for the Luftwaffe night fighters to aim at:

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This is the radome, behind the cockpit canopy. On more than one occasion my Dad would stand there. looking out, as the bombers all taxied out to the end of the runway for the take-off. My Dad was abundantly aware of the enormous casualty rates in Bomber Command, and more than once he wondered to himself how many of the aircraft he could see slowly making their way to the runway to take off would be coming back in the morning:

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Overall, Bomber Command lost 8,325 aircraft to enemy action. A total of 55,573 young men, all of them volunteers, were killed, a casualty rate of 44.4%. Of every hundred airmen, 55 were killed, three were injured on active service, 12 became prisoners of war, two were shot down and made their way back to England and 27 survived. One of the two reasons my Dad was one of those 27 fortunate young men was the fact that he flew in Lancasters. “A Lanc will always get you back” he told me on more than one occasion. I owe my own existence, therefore, to the excellence of the Avro Lancaster.

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Sooooo….when the moment was right, a fat old man quickly jumped over the rope, walked up to KB889, gave it a good pat and said “Thank you for my life”.
There will, however, always be some idiot child who is seduced by the flighty, undependable glamour of fighter aircraft and who will stand there taking photographs of Spitfires until the bus leaves. Just look at him in this photograph here:

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, The High School, Writing