by R.E. Hardy
The German bomber force, the Third Squadron, only once sent more than thirty bombers at a time, but the effect on morale was serious. At times there was panic, and stampeding crowds stormed into the Underground Railway. At Hyde Park an angry crowd almost lynched the crew of an anti-aircraft gun for refusing to fire on an aircraft held in the beam of a searchlight. The gunners knew — but the crowd wouldn’t believe — that the aeroplane was British.
Two hundred fighters (including the famous 56 Squadron) which were urgently needed on the Western Front, were kept in Britain to protect and encourage the civilian population.
The total weight of bombs dropped on Britain during the First World War amounted to 300 tons, causing 16 casualties per ton, but the two big daylight raids caused 832 casualties, or 121 casualties per ton dropped.
Such is a brief summary of the bombing in the 1914-1918 war, and its effects were to be studied with close attention by the world’s experts during the next 20 years.
Handley Page Halifaxes setting out for Berlin
(Photo: Charles E Brown)
All this had been brought about by a relatively tiny force, so it was hardly surprising that both sides foresaw a tremendous future for air attacks on cities.
In 1921, an Italian, General Douhet, published a thesis entitled ‘Command of the Air’. His contention was that a bomber force, if properly handled, could knock out an enemy power in weeks, if not days, by destroying the nerve centres of the homeland, the ports, railway installations, bridges, key factories, and so on.
He was convinced that the bomber would ‘always get through’ and this phrase became the key word to justify expenditure and increase the size of bomber fleets everywhere.
Douhet believed that one attack by 360 conventional bombers, and, it should be stressed, bombers of that period, would be enough to knock out a city the size of London.
The British Air Staff in the thirties saw the coming war as a slogging match between rival bomber forces, and were convinced that only large-scale action by bombers operating from well-protected bases would ensure British survival and eventual victory. Having prevented, by a very narrow margin, the dismemberment of the R.A.F. by the army and the navy, Lord Trenchard was thinking in terms of an independent air force, a strategic air force . . .
In 1938 a top secret report to the Committee of Imperial Defence anticipated 3500 tons of bombs on London during the first 24 hours of a new war. Working on the figures of casualties caused by the 1917 raids, seemingly confirmed by figures coming from Spain where the Civil War was then at its height, the Ministry of Health expected 600 000 dead and 1 200 000 injured during the first six months, and made the necessary preparations. Here, for purposes of comparison, are the figures of casualties during the London Blitz, September 7 1940 to May 10 1941. During that time London suffered 90 000 casualties, of whom just under 20 000 were killed and 25 000 seriously injured, the remainder being less seriously hurt.
The force that was casting its menacing shadow over Europe was the new German Air Force, the Luftwaffe. Goering, the leader of this force, was a great admirer of Douhet, but the Luftwaffe had never been designed as a strategic air force. The bomber force, though large, consisted of twin-engined medium bombers that were designed to co-operate with the German army in large-scale ground campaigns. The Luftwaffe was built expressly to fight with the army in Eastern Europe against the Russians, and Goering’s apocalyptic vision of a great air force raining down death and destruction on huge cities crowded with hysterical civilians, remained a vision. When such bombing did happen later in the war it was to be a German nightmare for it was the Royal Air Force that carried out the bombing!
The Germans never built the four-engined bomber needed for strategic air offensive, but General Wever, Chief of the German Air Staff, had pressed for an aircraft of this type, which, significantly, he called the Ural bomber. As the Ural mountains are in Russia this may be indicative of German thinking.
The British at the outbreak of war expected an immediate blitz on their cities, but the plan that existed at Luftwaffe H.Q. was far less ambitious, General Felmy preferred attacks against certain vital types of target such as the aircraft industry. He was uncomfortably aware of the huge potential that lay in British industry, and did not believe that his light and medium bombers were capable of a knock-out blow. He was also influenced by a fear, which was to be only too fully realized, that bombing British cities would lead to reprisals on an enormous scale against German cities.
There was one aspect of air attack that was fully expected but mercifully absent, and that was the use of gas. Britain was taking no chances and everyone, from grandmother to babe-in-arms was equipped with a gas-mask. The psychology was excellent, as was the policy of placing the Anderson shelter wherever there was the smallest garden. Nevertheless the fear of bombing was very real, and the expectation of early attack widespread.
As far as the Civil Defence Services were concerned, the British Government fully expected that the required number of Wardens would volunteer. The Wardens were largely middle-class people and the Government was very satisfied with the response. The Warden was the key figure in the Civil Defence organization, for he knew everyone in his sector, their habits, their movements, the layouts of their homes, and most important, where they sheltered or slept during a raid. The Warden’s trained assessment of each incident was telephoned through to H.Q. and this enabled the authorities to despatch the required fire or rescue services. In the East End of London, working-class boroughs, there was a desperate shortage of Wardens. The Blitz struck at just such a weak point in the dockland areas, where Communistic ideas were rife and defences weak. The general attitude was ‘We’re not going to do anything for ourselves, but you had better help us anyway.’ Fortunately the Blitz spread to greater London, and the dockland area had a respite from nightly bombing.
The choice of the word ‘Incident’ to describe everything from a cluster of incendiary bombs burning harmlessly in the gutter to a 1000 kilogram bomb that hadjust demolished a block of flats leaving an unknown number of survivors trapped in a basement, possibly reflects typical British understatement.
Coping with air-raids on the scale expected meant facing the unknown against a background of the lively terrors of the imagination. As far as the French were concerned, the imagined terror was enough.
It was a year after the outbreak of war that the heavy raids on London began, and by this time the total black-out enforced was regarded by most people as a magic veil of invisibility, so that people who showed any kind of light were screamed at, threatened, fined, or imprisoned.
There is no doubt that beside the very real danger of being knocked down by a bus or taxi, the black-out terrified a large number of people, especially girls and timid women who had never imagined such a darkness, and whose minds evoked atavistic fears of Jack the Ripper, nameless ghouls and Bill Sykes.
The raids soon proved that the casualties were not going to be as severe as expected, but the damage to buildings, and consequently the number of homeless requiring help, was turning out to be much larger than anticipated.
Fire too, was developing into a much greater menace than had been foreseen, and even with the aid of the Auxiliary Fire Service, the London fire services were stretched to the limit and beyond. In a short time it was self-evident that large numbers of fire-watchers were needed to cope with the thousands of incendiaries as they dropped and before the fires could take hold.
Protection for the eyes of firemen was also something that had been overlooked. There were large numbers of eye-injuries caused by the blizzards of sparks sucked by the wind from the huge spreading and uncontrollable blazes. At the time these fires were termed ‘Conflagrations’ and one such fire could engage the attentions of three hundred fire-engines. In Germany, on a vastly greater scale this was to be the ‘Firestorm.’
With courage and improvization the British coped with the crises and horrors of the Blitz, and Churchill was voicing the unspoken desire of millions when he promised the Germans bomb for bomb and ten bombs for one in the future.
The Slippery Slope
On May 10 1940 the German attack on the Low Countries began. On that same day three Heinkel 111 bombers of the Luftwaffe accidentally attacked the town of Freiberg-im-Breisgau in Western Germany. Although the German authorities knew that their own aircraft were responsible, the attack was blown up into a propaganda story of some magnitude, and the 57 people who had been killed achieved a degree of importance that had probably never been theirs in life. The Germans played the war in the West according to a different set of rules to the war, real or contemplated, in Eastern Europe.
In the beginning both sides paid scrupulous attention to ‘World Opinion’ and the convention that only military objectives should be attacked. The down-hill slide in scruples began with the attack on Rotterdam and ended with the British attack on Dresden 57 months later.
After the fall of France the only weapon the British had with a capacity to strike immediately against Germany was Bomber Command. Churchill at this time was undoubtedly the voice of Britain, and at the demand of the people he promised them that the Germans would receive an ever-increasing weight of bombs.
The idea that the British are a peace-loving nation is an old fallacy, fostered, and even believed, by themselves, but not by the rest of the world. They are quick to react when interfered with, and when their lives and homes are in danger are capable of hatred and anger more terrible and more sustained than that of any other nation on earth. This is a fact so often ignored by historians of Britain’s wars in the past, and yet it must be understood. Much has been written about the qualms experienced by politicians and senior air officers of the Air Staff, and still more about the revulsion of the bomber crews whose task it was to carry out the acts of destruction night after night. There is nothing in the records and diaries of the time to support claims to such feelings, still less in the reminiscences of bomber crews who survived.
With hindsight it is easy to question the morality of the decision to bomb Germany, and to build up a massive bomber force for the future, but this is to disregard the emotions of the time.
If Bomber Command had not been striking at Germany, or if the people felt that the bombing policy was under restraint of any kind, it is doubtful whether the will of the British people to continue the war could have been sustained.
The Germans were not much concerned about exactly what they bombed. They came close to success without knowing it when they destroyed radar masts and knocked out forward fighter airfields. By attacking London they relieved the pressure on Fighter Command, and everyone knew that it was going to take a great deal of bombing to destroy this very large city. Churchill was quick to realize the propaganda value of the raids. ‘The eyes of the world are on London’, he said, ‘London can take it’, and ‘London is the front line of the Free World.’
There was some demoralization in the East End at first, but quick action was taken to feed and shelter the homeless, extra anti-aircraft batteries were brought in, and though there was a danger of them running out of ammunition, Churchill would not allow them to lessen the volume of fire. They did not bring down many enemy aircraft and the gun barrels were going to be worn out in a matter of months, but as a morale builder the barrage was just the tonic the hard-pressed Londoners needed. Soon they were proud of being in the front line. Somehow this aspect of area bombing (synonym for indiscriminate attack) was lost sight of in the later attacks on the Germans. In some respects the British, as well as the Germans, are stolid and unimaginative and not the type of people to panic in the face of air attack. The mind boggles at the outcome of such attacks on races more volatile than the Teutons or Anglo-Saxons.
In the years immediately before the war, the R.A.F. could have been considered as a very exclusive club whose members included a high proportion of officers with Public School backgrounds. The elite training colleges like Cranwell turned out highly skilled airmen in comparatively small numbers. The threatening clouds of war changed all this as an enormous and rapid expansion took place.
Of the aircrews who began the war, not one in five hundred would live to see the end of it. There were not going to be enough commissioned officers to provide crews for the bomber fleets and by the middle years of the war, three quarters of the aircrews were sergeants from diverse social backgrounds, but a sergeant could fly a bomber equally as well as an officer. The W.A.A.F. cleaning the blackboards after a raid wiped out the names of sergeants by the hundred. Death had no class distinctions.
Between March and July 1943 — 872 bombers and 6000 airmen were lost. In addition 2126 heavy bombers were severely damaged or crash-landed in Eugland. In fact 4,7% of the bombers were lost over the target and 16% overall. These losses were insupportable and the nightly prospect of sudden death haunted the front-line crews.
From 18 November 1943 to 31 March 1944, 1047 bombers were lost and 1682 damaged. Bomber Command had in effect been wiped out, and the semi-experienced crews that remained were very frightened. Air Marshal Harris was gloomier than he had ever been after Nuremburg when 96 aircraft were lost. He demanded night-fighter support on a substantial scale.
Among the air-crews the jitters were widespread and a high proportion of pilots were reporting something wrong with their aircraft. ‘Mag. drop’ was a favourite letout (engine not giving full power).
The Aircrew Detention Centre at Sheffield was crowded with an average of 2000 unhappy souls living like convicts. The charge against all of them was L.M.F. (Lacking Moral Fibre). The stigma of this charge was so bad, and the further realization that all aircrew were volunteers gives some indication of the state of morale at this time. They knew they had practically no chance of survival. The surprising thing is not the two thousand who opted out, but the many thousands of others who carried on.
Cameras were the subject of confusion and even suspicion in Bomber Command. Was the camera an official spy? Would the crews become demoralized even if the photography were made into some kind of a competition with a place on the photographic ladder for all the aircraft of a station? Certain it was, that waiting for the flash photograph after the bombs were released, was hated by all the aircrews. By 1943 all aircraft were fitted with cameras, and their flash photographs showed that two-thirds of all the bombs dropped fell within 3 miles of the aiming point. One cause of waste was ‘Creepback’. Bomber crews did not fly up to the aiming point, but released their bombs early in the face of Flak, and those following bombed earlier still. These were the crews referred to contemptuously by Air Marshal Bennett as the ‘Fringe Merchants.’ In one raid during August 1943 the ‘Creepback’ extended thirty miles from the target.
A catch phrase of the time, was ‘Press on regardless!’, a cynical mockery of anything heroic. During a tour of operations the greatest danger lay in the first five trips which sustained a 40% casualty rate. Those who survived became fatalistic and ‘couldn’t care less’ (another phrase of the time) and then the early high morale would start to decline. Crews passing the 20 operations mark began to think that after all they might have a chance of survival and began to fly carefully, and it was amongst these crews that Bennett would find his ‘Fringe Merchants’. The last few ops became a time of terrible tension and the loss rate rose. Solidarity and strength of relationships between crew members became all-important, and Flight-Commanders would watch for any signs of friction between members of a crew. An incompatible crew gradually fell apart and would surely go missing. Illustrated graphically this would appear as follows:
Graph 1. The first three trips of a new crew were five times as dangerous as average, but as skill and experience mounted, so the chances of surviving each trip became better.
Graph 2. 30 trips with a casualty rate of 5%. This would be a straight line. A mathematical proposition in which each trip was equally dangerous. The line ended at the 20th operation.
Graph 3. A morale line drawn up by psychiatrists. This recorded the effect of stress as men were asked to face the mathematical probability of death. This graph, unlike the others, began at the highest point. Granted the courage of ignorance, and the inhibitory effect that curiosity has upon fear, morale here was high for the first five operations, then sloped to a crack-up point by the 11th or 12th trip.
Surviving the 13th operation, the graph line went upwards. Men had seen death at a personal level and were shocked to discover their own fear of it. Recognizing the same fear in the eyes of their friends helped their morale, and after a slight recovery the line remained constant until the 22nd trip, after which it sloped downwards without recovery.
The continuous influx of new crews to replace those now missing was a smooth and well-oiled operation. nothing could be worse for morale than numerous empty places at the mess tables. The new boys would arrive from the Operational Training Units within a day of the squadron having suffered fresh losses, and they would regard the surviving crews as experienced veterans, not realizing that some of these airmen themselves had completed only two or three operations. Vegetius, a Roman military writer of the fourth century, wrote — ‘No great dependence is to be placed on the eagerness of young soldiers for action, for fighting has something agreeable in the idea to those who are strangers to it.’
The Air Staff
Many of the Air Staff and the majority of politicians had reached an age when men normally retire from the hustle and bustle of life, and were incapable of grasping the technological needs and challenges of the age and especially the needs of the war.
By September 1941, after two years of war, 35 000 tons of bombs had been dropped and 1300 bombers lost.
As in every other branch of the services, young men were being sent out in obsolete aircraft with obsolescent equipment. According to the Air Staff, only rarely would bombs of a greater weight than 500 pounds be required! A further case can be made out against the Air Staff in regard to the armament of British bombers.
Air Marshal Harris tried for three years to get a turret carrying half-inch machine guns fitted to his aircraft. He states that the firm of A.V. Rose produced such a turret in 1942 when official channels had failed completely. Even when the turret was designed, it took another three years to have it officially accepted, and by that time the war in Europe was nearly over.
The need for this heavier machine-gun was the ever-increasing amount of armour plate built into the German night-fighters. The standard .303 bullet of Bomber Command was limited in effective range to 300 yards (270 m) and unless the gunner was lucky he might as well be spraying peanuts at his attacker, and this at a time when the German night fighters were armed with 20mm and 30mm cannon.
The criticism levelled at the Air Staff in relation to the aircraft of Bomber Command will be found in the notes relating to the individual types of aircraft.
Very early in every war the goddess Luck begins to gather her converts by the thousand. It is not surprising that some men who fly should be amongst the most superstitious, or those most ready to believe in a lucky talisman of one kind or another, They were defying death, darkness, the enemy, the elements, and gravity. Truly a formidable combination. One of the earliest manifestations was the power of the throttle control, for this was what it amounted to. Crews believed that aircraft flying with engines de-synchronized rendered enemy searchlights ineffective. There was no ground for this belief, and all it really did was make the aircraft vibrate terribly.
Every station had its ‘Chop Girl’, a W.A.A.F. who had been friendly with a succession of airmen who had subsequently gone missing or ‘got the chop’. These poor girls became quite miserable and could do nothing about their unwanted reputations. No aircrew members would even talk to them, let alone date them. To do so would be to sign their own death warrants. The only answer for the girl was a transfer to another station.
‘Watering the Wheel’ was a traditional pre-operation custom of the bomber crew urinating together against their bomber’s tail wheel for luck.
Under this heading must also be included a mention of the ‘J switch’. This was fitted to the I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe) set which many bomber crews were convinced had the capability of interfering with German searchlights. This theory will be explained in detail in the section relating to electronics.
Nearly every aircraft carried a mascot of one kind or another, be it a doll, a rabbit’s foot, a special scarf, a swagger stick or a lucky coin, and there was consternation if by chance it was mislaid. Despite all the lucky mascots over 9000 aircraft and nearly 60 000 aircrew were lost . . . the ‘lost command’ indeed.
(De Havilland photo)
Before the war started there were very optimistic hopes about the accuracy of air attack by day or night and phrases like ‘maximum error of 300 yards’ and ‘bomb in a barrel from 20 000 feet’ (the latter from the Americans) were bandied about as if bombing had been reduced to an exact science. After two years of bombing it was a bitter disappointment to both sides to discover the degree of inaccuracy. Not only was the target missed, but the bombers had not even found the right town! It was self-evident that something would have to be done to rectify matters, and while they were about it the ‘Boffins’ also came up with a great deal of technical gadgetry that was all inter-related to some degree. The following list of code names were all related to the bombing offensive.
Radar TR 1335 was to become known as Gee. Pulses from three different stations in Britain were displayed on a cathode-ray tube in the aircraft. By measuring the time interval between each pulse, the navigator was able to fix the position of the aircraft from the place where the appropriate Gee co-ordinates intersected on his chart.
The apparatus could also be used to bomb ‘blind’ through cloud, or for homing on a base, and later this was its principal use. Gee could be jammed, and was jammed for the first time in August 1942.
Oboe was a bearing and distance Radar device designed to enable an aircraft to fly along a radio beam in order to reach a pre-determined point. Oboe remained in use until the end of the war arid operated like this. There were two fixed stations; a tracking or Cat station and a releasing or Mouse station. Each had a pulse transmitter-receiver and distance-measuring equipment. Pulses from the fixed stations, received and re-transmitted by the aircraft, were picked up by the ground stations, and the total time of travel since transmission was measured. This meant that the distance of the aircraft from each station was known all the time, and enabled the stations, by correlation of their bearings, to transmit their information to the aircraft in the form of a Fix. In order to reach a predetermined position for blind-bombing or target marking, the pilot used ordinary navigational methods until he reached a point on the appropriate position line on the Cat station, and here he switched on his Oboe.
If he was correctly positioned on the Oboe beam, a continuous aural signal was picked up; any deviation caused this to break up into a series of Morse Es and ‘l’s (dots and dashes). In other words, Port, (left) became a dot, and Starboard (right) became a dash. The beam itself was only 50 feet (15,24 m) wide, so very precise flying was required. As the aircraft continued along the beam, distance-from-target signals in the form of morse Bs ( _...) Cs (_._.) and Ds (_..) were picked up at 8,5, and 3 minutes from the objective. At 5 seconds from the release point the pilot heard 5 half-second pips, followed by a 2½ second dash, at which point he released his load.
The main limitation of Oboe was, that because of the curvature of the earth, the range was limited (when the device was used at normal operational heights) to 200 miles (322 km) at 25 000 feet (7 620 m). With Mosquitoes operating at 30 000 feet (9 144 m) there was an improvement in the range, but it was still limited. Another drawback was that during the run-up to the target, the pilot had to fly straight and level for fifteen minutes in order to hold the beam. The strain on the crew during this time was intense, and the aircraft itself was extremely vulnerable to Radar-directed Flak.
Oboe culd be laid with great accuracy against a target as small as a factory building, and was later used by Mosquitoes carrying target-markers.
On the 7th January 1944 a Mosquito carrying Oboe was shot down near Kleve, but the British were prepared for this eventuality.
They continued to broadcast Oboe signals on the old wavelength for camouflage purposes while actually operating on the centimetric wavelength which could not be jammed.
Airborne radar (H2S). This piece of equipment enabled bomber crews to see through cloud and darkness for bombing, target-marking, and navigation.
The H2S scanner was mounted in a blister below the mid-upper turret of a Lancaster and, driven by an electric motor, rotated at 50 revs, per minute. The echoes received, according to their intensity, showed up more or less brightly on the cathode-ray tube, and produced a Radar picture of the landscape features below the bomber. The biggest advantage of H2S was that it was completely self-contained. It was heavy (700 pounds — 317 kg) and its operation and interpretation required a considerable degree of skill. The pulses of H2S could be detected by the enemy, giving away the bombers position, but this was only discovered later. The set was subject to frequent breakdowns and was a complete novelty to the aircrews, and although H2S provided a perfect picture above a shoreline, one built-up area looked very much like another.
The set was first issued to the Pathfinders and later to all heavy bombers.
By a cruel stroke of luck the Germans captured an H2S set with its 9,2cm cathode ray tube from a shot-down Stirling bomber during the second raid in which it was used. H2S was called ‘Rotterdam’ by the Germans from the location of the crashed Stirling, and they quickly produced two tracking devices able to fellow the course of any bomber using the set. When bomber crews realized that the Germans were tracking the bombers through the H2S impulses, prolonged use of the set was discouraged and morale suffered. Here it must also be stated that the Germans were learning the wonders of centimetric Radar ably assisted by a co-operative ex-Bomber Command prisoner.
Freya was named after the Nordic goddess whose watchmen could see a hundred miles in every direction. The grid of the antennae was as big as a large house and could be rotated a full 360 degrees. The set operated on 125 megacycles and had an actual range of 75 miles (120 km). This was the most important German early-warning radar up to the middle of the war.
Wurzburg resembled an electric bowl-fire as large as a windmill. From a 10 foot (3 m) diameter bowl with a range of 20 miles (32 km), Telefunken doubled the size of the bowl to 20 feet (6 m) giving it a range of 40 miles (64 km). Earlier, in 1940, the Wurzburg-controlled master searchlight was introduced. This light, which to bomber crews seemed to have a distinctly bluish tinge, would point up vertically as the bombers approached and then swing suddenly onto a bomber without any of the usual groping. Once held by the master searchlight, evasive tactics counted for nothing, and the remaining searchlights of the group, usually four, would fasten on to the bomber and the master returned to the vertical. The only answer for the pilot was to dive, pick up speed and get clear of the area.
Window was a piece of paper roughly a foot long and half an inch wide, one side consisting of aluminium foil and the other of black paper. When this was dropped from British bombers in sufficient quantity, the German Radar could not see. Once introduced, the R.A.F. was to drop 250 million strips of this paper. Two thousand strips (costing fourpence) produced a radar echo similar to that produced by a heavy bomber. The British had known the value of Window for over a year, but were afraid the Germans would copy it and use it in a new campaign against Britain. For this reason its use over Germany was forbidden until a British night-fighter Radar-immune to Window - could be developed, and this was ready in July 1943. Window was used almost immediately in the battle of Hamburg. Ironically the Germans had made their own Window called ‘Duppel’, but banned its use in case the British copied it! Unlike the British they had not taken the precaution of developing ‘Window-proof’ radar sets.
There was a strong feeling in Bomber Command that Window could have been released a year earlier regardless of the fact that there was no counter immediately available. Judging by the number of aircraft used by the Germans in their sporadic raids on Britain at this time, the number of aircraft available to the Germans was not as great as supposed by British Intelligence.
Mr Morrison was responsible for the home front and evidently considered the bomber crews more expendable than the civilian population.
Loran was basically a natural extension of the Gee navigational device. Loran used reflected radio waves from the E layer and had a range of 1500 miles (2414 km) but the very use of E layers limited its effective use to night-flying.
Loran had not been used by the R.A.F. up to February 1945, but, by then the executive order to bomb a city at great range and close to the Russian lines (70 miles — 112 km) required the highest confidence in the target-marking aircraft, and only Loran could provide this. Gee petered out 150 miles (241 km) west of Dresden but Loran could not be picked up below 19 000 feet (5 790 m).
Mandrel was produced to obliterate the signals from the Freya system. The device had the same effect on enemy radar as a car with an unscreened ignition system has on domestic television. This crude type of interference was known as noise jamming and transmitted noise to cover the frequencies used by Freya, from 118 to 128 megacycles.
Tinsel was a small transmitter fitted near one of the bomber’s engines which was switched on when orders to German fighters were being broadcast, effectively obliterating all speech.
Monica and Fishpond both gave warning of the approach of German fighters, but as there were often friendly bombers nearby, there were also many false alarms. Worse, the Germans had discovered Monica as soon as it was introduced in 1943 and produced an airborne counter device called Flensburg to home upon the Monica impulses. On the 13th of July 1944 the pilot of a Ju 88 mistook the Irish sea for the English channel and landed at Woodbridge in Suffolk with a cupful of fuel in his tanks. It was hard to decide who was more surprised when an R.A.F. flight sergeant found himself facing three German airmen. Hurriedly he produced a Very pistol and took them prisoner. The aircraft was a real prize for the British as it was found to contain two instruments completely new to them. One was Flensburg, which, when tested by the R.A.F. horrified them by picking up Monica transmission at a range of 130 miles. Monica was modified, but this did not help and the fighter warning set was not used again. The other instrument was SN2, which after some experiment was found to be susceptible to jamming by a special type of Window. This was used at once against the German night-fighters during an attack on Kiel.
Avro Lancaster in flight
(Photo: Charles E Brown)
Perfectos was the ultimate in British electronic gadgetry during WW II and alone it gave all three pieces of information necessary for a successful interception. That is: direction, distance, and positive identification.
The principle was simple. Perfectos sent out a stream of impulses in such a way as to trigger the identification sets of all the German aircraft in the area. The German sets replied with special coded pulses, which not only betrayed the contact on the Perfectos screen as hostile, but also gave an accurate range and bearing on it.
The Germans quickly caught on to the fact that they were being accurately tracked, and took the simplest counter-measure — they switched off their identification equipment! This saved them, but complicated still further the job of the Luftwaffe fighter-controllers. They now had no positive means of telling friend from foe on their radar screens.
I.F.F. (identification, friend or foe) was a set designed to receive impulses from British ground radar sets, and to reply with a coded pulse on the same frequency and thus to protect British aircrafi from British defences. In 1942 it was suspected that German searchlights were radar controlled, as in fact they were, but very loosely. From the beginning of 1942 there was a widely held belief among British aircrews that when they switched on their I.F.F. certain searchlights in the area went out!
The Wurzburg controlling the searchlights worked on a frequency of 570 megacycles. The I.F.F. worked on 25m. and could not possibly jam it directly, but the belief persisted that I.F.F. interfered with searchlights. For the aircrews it was always an alarming experience to be caught by the searchlights and the consequent Flak, and it was felt that no harm would be done by switching on the I.F.F. and it might possibly do some good.
In June 1942 all I.F.F. sets on Bomber Command aircraft received a modification called the ‘J, or jamming, switch.’ The crews liked it and frequently reported that it helped them to escape from the enemy search Iights.
Bomber Command statistical staff carefully analysed the mass of evidence to see whether the ‘J switch’ had any effect on losses.
In September 1942, a restricted-circulation report stated that there was no evidence to support the belief that the J switch affected the enemy defences in any way. However, since many crews thought it was effective, the psychological effect on them was enough to justify its retention.
In the autumn of 1943 the Luftwaffe Signals Regiment found a means of triggering the I.F.F. from the ground, and was busy tracking R.A.F. bombers by this even when the 'J’ switch had not been used.
After July 1944 aircrews were ordered not to use I.F.F. except in emergency.
Corona. The British ‘Ghost-controller’ would call up German air and ground control stations and give long test transmissions. Anything that raised the level of annoyance to the Germans was an asset to Bomber Command. Anyone who has ever had to listen to the drivel broadcast over a public-address system while it is being tested will vouch for the irritation it can cause. Testing, testing, one two three four... . Mary had a little lamb . . . . 98765 . . . the quick brown fox ...., etc.
The effect upon the night-fighter crews waiting at the beacons for radio instructions which could not penetrate the jamming, knowing as they did that one by one Germany’s cities were being destroyed, can be imagined.
Bombs ... of infinite variety
Before an effective night-bombing attack could take place it was necessary for the bomber crews to know that they had found the target, and before the advent of sophisticated electronics there was only one way to find the target and that was by using magnesium parachute flares. In the beginning the flare turned out to be a double-edged weapon. Very often the dazzle from the flare was so bad that the bomb-aimer could barely see the ground, and in heavy mist or low-lying cloud the luminous haze threw a ghostly pall of smoky light over the target area, so that bombing became so much guesswork.
Later came the 7 inch hooded flare, complex but effective. This was a 7 inch diameter black tube 63 inches (160 cm) long with a half-inch red band near the nose end, and it weighed up to 85 pounds (38,5 kg). The asbestos hood pulled out of the tube and formed the shade between the flare itself and the parachute so that all the light was deflected downwards where it was needed and not into the eyes of the bomb-aimer — and there was a great deal of light, to be exact 750 000 candle power of magnesium alloy that burned for three to four minutes. This was the Mark I. The Mark II carried four such flares in a cluster. The Mark I parachute was 20 feet (6 m) in diameter. After the flares came the T.I. (Target Indicator) or marker bomb used by the Pathfinders. It took the form of a light-case 250 pound (113 kg) missile packed with impregnated cotton wool which was designed to burst 3 000 feet (915 m) above the ground and then cascaded hundreds of small red balls which burned vividly for as long as 10 minutes. The Germans found them impossible to simulate and very difficuilt to extinguish and anyone attempting to put them out did so in the sure knowledge of being on the target spot for a huge load of high explosive. These were the marker bombs that changed the outlook for night bombing and led the mainstream bombers onto the target.
THE 250 POUND INCENDIARY BOMB. 61 inches (155 cm) long without the fuse. Colour: red overall with two 2 inch (50mm) black bands separated by a 2 inch (50 mm) bright red band near the nose. Maximum body diameter 12” (30,5 cm).
The Mark 1 was filled with a mixture of phosphorous-rubber-benzene. The Mark II filling was delicately referred to as a ‘sticky inflammable mixture’ which the Germans knew to be largely phosphorous.
These bombs were horrifying weapons of war to be dropped at the height of a raid when they would probably catch hapless firemen or rescue workers, and turn them into torches or set fire to the injured. The terrible thing about phosphorous was that it could not be put out. The method advised for dealing with it was to smother it in sand but there was no satisfactory treatment for bad phosphorous burns on a human being.
In Hamburg after the firestorm, hundreds of people were standing up to their necks in water in canals or supporting themselves on quiayside piles. To the horror of the authorities these people were all found to be phosphorous-fire victims. If they raised themselves from the water some part of body or limb burst into flame. The area was cordoned off and the following night S.S., police, and troops moved into the area and clubbed or shot until a merciful silence descended on the area.
S.B.C. (Small Bomb Containers) were metal trunks in the bomb-bays which contained the 21-inch-long (53 cm) hexagonal 4 pound (1,8 kg) thermite incendiaries. Each canister held 90 of these bombs. They were released from the aircraft in showers, and were a real danger to other aircraft as they had no ballistic properties for aiming purposes. Each incendiary struck the ground or roof with a whiplike crack and a white flash, then flared with an intense flame that quickly set fire to tarmac or roofing timber. These bombs were dropped by the hundred thousand.
30 POUND IB (Incendiary Bomb). Known as the 30 pound (13,6 kg) phosphorous bomb. 810 mm long, dark red with a broad light red band around the body. (Easily identifiable unless it exploded, in which case it was advisable to be some distance away. Pieces of phosphorous flew 30 metres or more and other pieces kept floating down for at least 15 seconds after the initial explosion.) Persons in the area where such bombs had dropped were advised not to go too near too quickly. ‘If the smallest piece of flaming phosphorous lands on your clothing you should remove it at once and douse it in water. Then scrape it off or it will re-ignite.’ (Exactly how you were to do this during an air-raid was a good question.) The final comment of that instruction is worth recording. ‘This bomb is a horrifying weapon; were widely used and were most ineffective being believed by both armourers and air-crews to be 60 per cent ‘dud’.
The M.C. (Medium Capacity) was a similar type of bomb.
4000 POUND H.C. (HIGH CAPACITY). Three nose pistols, dark green overall. 1/2 inch red band 8 inches (20 cm) from the nose, and a 2 inch (50 mm) light-green band 2 inches (50 mm) from the nose.
Overall length 110 inches (279 cm) and maximum body diameter of 30 inches (76 cm). It contained 3 930 pounds (1 783 kg) of Amatol 60/40 and was the first of the big-blast bombs designed for area bombing. Euphemistically called a ’Cookie’.
8000 POUND H.C. This was a larger edition of that described above. They were nothing more than large steel bins crammed with high explosive. They had no fins or aerodynamic qualities but one bomb could demolish a block.
4000 POUND M.C. (MEDIUM CAPACITY). Better known as ‘the Pink Pansy’ this was a really beautiful bomb, and this is not meant to be ironical! It was stuffed full of rubber, benzole and phosphorous that ignited on impact with a great pink flash of fire visible for miles. All the markers were pretty to watch and were the epitome of all firework displays!
As the bomber offensive against German cities gathered strength new bombs were added to the airforce armoury and some of these were highly specialized weapons far too complex and expensive to be used to demolish cities and kill people.
TALLBOY was the name given to one of the deep-penetration bombs. Torpex-filled, this was a streamlined bomb designed to cause an underground earthquake, and thus demolish anything standing on the ground above.
Tallboy was 21 feet (6,4 in) long, shiny blue-black in colour and weighing 12 030 pounds (5 460 kg). This was another bomb invented by Barnes WaIlis of ‘Dam Buster’ fame. From 20 000 feet (6 086 m) this bomb travelled faster than sound and penetrated 90 feet (27 m) into the earth before exploding. Wallis had off-set the fins so that it spun like a top and this stabilized it in supersonic flight. The first crater from this bomb was more than 100 feet (30 m) across.
854 Tallboys were dropped on special targets such as railway viaducts, tunnels, and the extremely thick concrete protecting the U-boat pens. The 16 foot thick (4,9 m) reinforced concrete was shattered as well as the U-boats it sheltered.
GRAND SLAM was the ultimate in conventional bombs if one can describe this 22 000 pound monster nearly 27 feet (8,2 m) long as conventional in any sense of the word. Only the Lancaster fitted with the most powerful engines and minus bomb-bay doors could even lift it to 18 000 feet (5 486 m). When the first Grand Slam was lifted by a Lancaster of 617 Squadron other crews of the squadron watched in wonder and alarm. On the ground a Lancaster has no perceptible dihedral, and the wings appear to spread in a straight line, but now the wings were a graceful arc, curving up at the tips as they took the strain of the ten tonner. Only 41 of these great bombs were built and perhaps the best-known and most-photographed attack was the one on the Bielefeld Viaduct, not far from Bremen.
THE 1000 POUND M.C. (MEDIUM CAPACITY) was the other general-purpose bomb used in the great night offensive. Amatol or TNT filled it had a delay or impact fuse and here again there were a large number of ’duds’.
Delayed-action bombs were dropped at frequent intervals during a raid. If a stick of bombs were dropped, someone might notice the gap where an explosion failed to take place, and remember to report it as a ‘dud’ or a delayed-action bomb. This happened quite frequently during the raids on London, and gave the authorities a chance to cordon off the area until the bomb exploded or was rendered harmless by the bomb-disposal people. When hundreds of bombs a minute were falling during a saturation raid there was no chance of such a warning. Delayed-action bombs were set off by mechanical pistols of various types, all extremely ingenious and effective. One of these devices called the ‘47 pistol’, operated as follows. As the D.A. bomb left the bomb-bay a linen cord, still attached to the aircraft dragged the safety-pin from the pistol which rotated a pulley, and this in turn screwed down a bolt upon a tiny bottle of acid. The spilled acid ate through a sheet of celluloid which retained a spring-loaded striking-pin. As the celluloid dissolved, the pin with nothing to retain it struck the detonator.
British G.P. bombs were only half as effective as German light-case bombs of the same weight, but, when it was discovered that a simple aluminium additive fed to existing mixtures would improve the explosive power of British bombs by one hundred per cent, the request for the necessary aluminium powder was refused because of aluminium shortages!
Bomber Command’s insatiable appetite for bombs meant that less dependable types were used. One report says that 25 per cent of all high-explosive bombs failed to explode. An accurate German survey of 30 000 bombs dropped on oil-refineries shows that 18,9 per cent of all R.A.F. bombs and 12,2 per cent of all U.S.A.A.F. bombs did not explode. On this evidence, it is a tragedy that so much of Bomber Command’s effort was wasted.
Finally, no one ever wrote messages on bombs. The silly chalked messages ‘With Love to Adolf’ or something similar, were always done by press photographers. Armourers were always conscious of death at their elbow and did not consider bombs a fit subject for comic remarks.
Organization — R.A.F. Bomber Command
At the outbreak of war there was no reserve at all for Bomber Command, so the comparatively long pause, the so-called ’Sitzkrieg’ was a great relief to its commander Sir Edgar Hewitt.
At the peak of Bomber Command’s effort there were twenty two and a half Operational Training Units to maintain a front-line strength of a thousand aircraft.
In 1939 Bomber Command had 6 groups comprising
10 Squadrons of WellingtonsIn theory, 848 aircraft, in fact 272.
10 Squadrons of Hampdens
10 Squadrons of Blenheims
15 Squadrons of Battles
8 Squadrons of Whitleys
The Empire Air Training Scheme with 360 training units by the end of the war had turned out 137 739 aircrew including 54 098 pilots.
P.F.F. (Pathfinder Force). This specialized force rapidly selected from some of the best bomber crews was founded on the 11th of August 1942, and went on its first operation on the night of 18/19 August 1942.
In the beginning it consisted of the following squadrons and aircraft, each group being allocated one squadron of Pathfinders.
1 Group 156 Squadron, WellingtonsThere were 54 Operational Airfields through Eastern England from Darlington to Cambridge, and about one-third of them were pre-war installations with extensive facilities and comfortable accommodation.
2 Group 109 Squadron, Wellingtons and Mosquitoes
3 Group 7 Squadron, Stirlings
4 Group 35 Squadron, Halifaxes
5 Group 83 Squadron, Lancasters.
High Wycombe was the H.Q. of Bomber Command and by March 1944 Bomber Command had grown to 7 Operational Groups, 3 Training Groups, and a Signals Group.
An Air Commodore controlled a Base Airfield and two other Airfields. Unofficially these became known as a ‘Clutch’, and a Bomber Squadron was usually commanded by a Wing Commander.
A Bomber Station contained a three-flight squadron of 30 bombers, or two double-flight squadrons with 40 bombers in all.
Thirteen Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons of 6 Group were stationed in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and East Anglia.
Some of them were equipped with Mark II Lancasters with radial engines and a mid-under (ventral) gum-turret. These were being fitted as fast as the Canadians could get the necessary conversion kits from the U.S.
The 7 Groups consisted of 76 squadrons comprising a thousand aircraft.
A tour in Bomber Comnsand consisted of 30 operational flights. Raids on Holland, Belgium, and France as far as 6 degrees East, and laying of mines, counted as one third of an op. Laying mines in German waters counted as a full operation. Crews in Mosquito bomber squadrons had to do 50 ops. to complete a tour. This was because Mosquitoes were far less vulnerable than the heavy bombers.
Serrate and Mosquito lntruder night-fighters over Germany did 35 ops.
Pathfinders had to do 45 operations, and could then go straight on to 60 to complete a second tour. After that they could not be called on to do any further operations with Bomber Command. Needless to say, the chance of them surviving 60 operations was remote.
With Fighter Command there was no equivalent tour in the same sense, but 200 hours of operational flying constituted a tour in fighters. Coastal Command crews did 800 hours for a tour, but with a Catalina which could remain airborne for 28 hours at a stretch, this soon mounted up. American B17 crews did 25 ops to complete a tour. Bomber Command made 364 514 sorties and lost 8 325 aircraft not including those that crashed or crash-landed in Britain. Careful calculations spread over the whole period of the war showed that 50,06 per cent of crews would survive a first tour. In time, a tour could last anything from four months to a year.
After a raid there were usually bombers in distress and these were accorded top-priority assistance whether it was guidance to an emergency landing, an accurate navigation ‘fix’ if the bomber was forced to ditch in the sea, a shortage of fuel which meant quick directing to the nearest airfield, or an aircraft flying on three engines or even two, which in turn meant a top landing priority.
There might be radio or hydraulic failure, or damage to the aircraft, and frequently, wounded crew members, which meant that the captaims could not use his parachute. He would order un-injured crew to bale out if he thought it necessary, and would then try to bring the aircraft down in one piece.
Even in conditions of minimum war-time lighting, a good airfield could land an aircraft every two or three minutes, but even so, some had to wait in an aerial queue. Two Emergency Airfields at Woodbridge in Suffolk and Manston in Kent, had extended runways for aircraft suffering hydraulic failures. These runways were each three miles long, and gave the pilot whose aircraft was without flaps or brakes a good chance uf a safe landing.
R.E. Hardy will cover further aspects of night bombing over Europe in a future article in this journal.
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