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 Bomber Command by Brian Grafton
Bomber Command
by Brian Grafton

Even before the fall of France, the Air Ministry met to create policy and directives for the coming battle. They were geared to an obvious end: to defeat enemy intentions in the immediate future. For Fighter Command, the requirement was clear: defend against the air assault that was imminent. For Bomber Command, the directives of June 20 were two-fold: medium bombers were to attack shipping, troop build-up and enemy airfields; 'heavies' were to focus upon enemy aircraft production. Other targets were indicated as well, and mine-laying ops ('gardening', in RAF slang), as opportunity arose.

For medium bombers, read Blenheims: the remnants of the 10 Battle squadrons assigned to AASF were re-entered on the strength of Bomber Command, but the aircrews were retrained for Wellingtons, while the Fairey Battles themselves were largely turned over to Training Command.[1]

The Blenheims were directed to operate only under the cover of cloud if unescorted, and their loss rate remained low under these conditions. When they were attacked by fighters, however, their loss rate soared.

Over the course of the summer, the directives received by Bomber Command would change with astonishing rapidity as new threats were perceived or new targets gained priority. July 4 brought a concentration on shipping targets; July 13 called for renewed assaults on aircraft production. In truth, Bomber Command was largely on the defensive, countering enemy moves, though as the summer stretched on the attacks on oil, aircraft factories and warships continued. Much of this activity was ineffective, and 'heavies' were losing more aircrew than were lost to the enemy as a result of their bombing.

The major turning point of the summer occurred when, after jettisoned German bombs fell on London, Churchill demanded a raid on Berlin in retaliation. To this point, Hitler had been firm in his refusal to allow Luftwaffe bombing of London. But the accidental or misdirected release of bombs on cities and towns was not that unusual despite prohibitions. Nevertheless, on the night of 25/26 August, Bomber Command conducted its first raid on Berlin.

As a raid, it was a failure. Berlin was shrouded in cloud and most of the bombs missed the city: there were only two recorded injuries resulting from the attack. Goering was humiliated by the raid, however, and Hitler was outraged, particularly when a further raid occurred on the last night of August. On September 7, the Luftwaffe was given the geen light and London came under bomber attack: 'the Blitz' had begun.[2]

At about the same time, the build-up of invasion barges was accelerating, and Bomber Command, with Coastal Command, was directed against the barges, troop assembly areas and other critical targets such as the Dortmund-Ems aqueduct. By September 21, Blenheims, Hampdens and Battles had destroyed just enough barges (about one-eighth the almost 1900 assembled) to discourage the Wehrmacht from attempting an invasion on the timetable first given by Hitler on 16 July. In effect, the invasion threat was over. The aerial assault on London would continue, and would spread to other British cities over the next eight months. The Battle of the Atlantic would continue (in the U-boats' favour) for the next two years. Allied troops would face the see-saw of North Africa, defeat in Greece and Crete, and humiliation in the Far East. The fall of Singapore would signal the end of empire. But for the moment, England was unconquered.


[1]. The Battles were to return to active duty at least once more, during the concentrated assault on invasion barges during the middle of September.

[2]. 'The Blitz' became almost proprietary to the British, signifying the German bombing of British cities, and a wonderful new verb, "to blitz", entered the language. A Londoner whose home was destroyed by bombs would say he was "blitzed". London was to be hit for 76 consecutive nights (with one exception, in early November) during the autumn and winter of 1940, but German attacks on London and other cities would continue into the late spring of 1941. Those living in other cities, who didn't feel the weight of assault as London did, would mark events by the date of attack, as this comment from a Liverpool mother shows: "Our Pat, she was born in the [sic.] March, 1941, just before the May Blitz." (Pete Grafton, You, You and You, p. 32).

Bomber Command written by Brian Grafton.
All rights reserved. Duplication of text or materials in any form prohibited except with the express written consent of Brian Grafton
Copyright © 2001 Brian Grafton

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