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Thursday, 19 September 2013


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With the Royal Air Force restricted to the ground attack for the Army, there would have been no reason for its existence as a separate service. It needed a convincing strategic reason of its own for continuing to exist. That being said, the Luftwaffe managed to exist as a separate entity despite being flying artillery for the German Army, but perhaps that was on account of the forceful personality of the late Herr Goering.

Yes, indeed, Oswald, and the question arises again today with the demise of the old V-bomber force, what is the RAF for?

You have the common misconception that in the UK the military control the armed forces. They don't. The armed forces are controlled by the politicians who exercise this control via the civil service. In effect, the military are controlled by the civil service.

If you want to read something about the aircraft of WW2, get hold of a book "The Broken Wing" by David Divine.

No doubt the Germans were correct before Dunkirk, but as far as the war in the West was concerned, what they needed then was strategic bombers - which they didn't have. The RAF had no ground forces to support, so strategic bombing came into its own. In the end, the RAF carried out both strategies at the same time, the Germans couldn't or didn't.

This hindsight is bloody good stuff!

No time now, will return later, but I am all too conscious of the truth that "hindsight is bloody good stuff", not the least of its advantages is the one doesn't need Specsavers!

I agree with backofanenvelope. "This hindsight is bloody good stuff." What you have to remember is that during the period mentioned, technology was advancing in leaps and bounds and nobody really knew what the new weapons were capable of, or of their limitations.

It seemed entirely reasonable at the time (with the newly developed aircraft and bombs available)to assume that strategic air warfare was capable of destroying industry and destroying civilian morale to the extent that a hostile nation would capitulate before being decisively beaten on the battlefield.

Of course we now know differently. The hypothesis around which Max Hastings wrote his book "Bomber Command" was that when we were trying to destroy German industry and morale by strategic air power we didn't have the capability, and by the time the capability had been developed (in the final stages of the war) the job had already been done.

Even after drinks? Maybe, maybe not.

Strategic bombing has, understandably, a 'bad press' due to the moral and ethical cost. Strategic bombing is 'targeted' at destroying/undermining 'a nation's overall war-making capability' (as distinct from tactical and operational bombing).

Pre-war it was an almost universally accepted doctrine, and had been arguably successfully used in Yemen, although its first use was WW 1 (remember both the Zeppelin raids and the raids against Zeppelin manufacturers?). Far from it being 'Trenchard and Churchills baby' it was planned and used by all, including the Luftwaffe (care to consider the Condor regiment in the Spanish 'Civil' War?). Examine the actions of the Luftwaffe in invading Poland, or the raids as a a precursor to the invasion of England (only prevented by those pesky RAF types at the Battle of Britain) – strategic bombing all. We won't even mention that in comparison to the US strategic bombing of the Japanese (successful, I'll remind you) it barely got started in Europe.

Yes, there remained a 'belief' in strategic bombing in the UK and US, whereas it waned in Germany, but that was partly due to (some very few) seeing Guernica for what it was, and partly due to the Luftwaffes inability (only twin-engined bombers, our radar and fighters) to compete.

In hindsight, the aspect of 'breaking a nations morale, it's will to fight' was completely in error since most evidence shows the opposite, a building of resolve (retrospective understanding). But the aspect of destroying infrastructure?

Care to examine the (successful) doctrine of MAD? The 'current/recent' uses of air-power (Bosnia, Libya, Iraq)? The entire raison d'etre of Cruise missiles?

Portal, Harris, Bufton and Trenchard (and Mitchell in the US) are easy targets from a 70 year, safe, hindsight perspective (and modern sensibilities). I'm not sure I feel so comfortable criticising their actions (Oh, there were many bad assumptions, errors and 'questionable decisions' but ...). It seems an almost uniquely British response to success, in direst need when someone steps up to the plate and succeeds, 'we' then dump them and spend the rest of time vilifying their every action.

Oh, and on Oswalds point - with the army restricted to being ferried to action (island remember) there would be no need for a separate service (all marines?). Specialisation has its benefits, occasionally.

What you ask, is the RAF for, without the V-force. A bit late in the day to ask that. When I was having my brain removed, I had to give a 15 minute "persuasive brief". My topic was that the RAF should be disbanded and shared out between the Navy and the Army. I thought it would do both lots a lot of good - big infusion of new and forward-thinking blood. I was advised by the Sqn Education Officer that it was a good brief but better for my career (such as it was) if I gave one on something else. I got high marks for a talk on home insulation!

Haven't a clue (what's new?) to what precipitated this post David, but just t'other day I said to myself, "Hmmm, that's interstin":

Interesting comments and an excellent but coincidental link from JK, however, I am too 'knacked' tonight, I will return with hopefully more energy tomorrow.

Difficult to cover all the points raised but I will respond thus:

1. I don't criticise the likes of Trenchard for being wrong but I definitely do criticise the likes of Harris for continuing the error when the mistake was obvious!

2. Also, I do criticise Trenchard for deciding on his strategic doctrine more on the basis of how it would effect the future of an independent RAF rather than on a reasoned analysis of its strategic usefulness.

3. In support of my criticism of the Trenchard/Harris policy I would remind you that, with a little help from Albert Speer, German GDP continued to *rise* throughout the war up to and including 1944 only dropping in the last few months during 1945.

4. Whilst I recognise that military planning (using that word in the widest sense) is a three-fold exercise between officers, civil servants and politicians, and whilst I also recognise that it does no good to throw your toys out of the pram and flounce off, nevertheless, in recent times (as well as old times), our very senior military failed in their prime duty to put their careers on the line if they thought that the lives of their troops/airmen/sailors were being *needlessly* risked

I don't think it is a matter of planning but rather one of who decided to go to war. I was in MOD in 1982 when Mrs Thatcher decided to evict the Argentines from the Falklands. She took advice but it was her decision. There were plenty of people in MOD and the FO who thought she was just a silly woman.

I am not sure what the alternative to area bombing was before 1944. Dropping leaflets seemed to have failed...... German production rose because unlike the British the Germans didn't think they to organise their civilians for total war till rather late in the day. After all, they thought they were going to win.


Personally I'd like a little better breakdown of the German GDP (acquiring territory can improve productivity markedly after a short delay) - also assuming just because there continued to be an increase that no effect occurred is ... optimistic.

Harris continued, yes, but wrong? I still question that assumption. Examine the reverse – The Blitz. Whilst material production (in Britain) was not massively affected, more to do with their inconsistency in attacks, poor intelligence (specifically industrial), targeting of strong rather than weak points, etc., morale was definitely adversely affected. It has been suggested that if The Battle of Britain had continued for as few as five days “nothing could have saved London” (without Churchill I believe it may have been the end [capitulation – the Germans thought so too, sufficient to start planning celebrations] anyway).

The UK and US targeting of ports, railways and oil refineries/distribution centres (those would be the cities too) paid off significantly.

Should there have been more fighters, especially night capable, yes, but pre-war technology (and assumptions) indicated that stopping a massed bomber attack was all but impossible, so they became a low priority. Therefore the 'cult of the offensive' was born, the only defence is an offence – the build up of a strategic bombing command. It was suggested that the fear of massive bomber attacks (and the accepted pre-war knowledge that 'two out of three homes would be destroyed') was a prime motivator in Chamberlains reaction/response to Hitler.

I'd also point out that the Luftwaffe changed its priorities markedly over the course of the war. At the beginning it 'officially' didn't target civilians and their morale, but targeted factories, utilities, shipping and food stocks, making it a 'moot point'. They very quickly started 'area bombing' since targeting was effectively impossible. Later evidence shows a deliberate targeting of workers, housing, etc. So? If it was ineffective and wrong – why 'progress' to the same strategy? (and a strategy that continues to this day, I might remind you).

Needlessly? Who is to judge? Based on what information? I can guarantee that neither Trenchard/Harris/Churchill or the pilots and crews felt it so at the time. I'll say again, it's easy to make judgements in hindsight with better information and differing perspectives.

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