The RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF’s bomber forces from 1936 to 1968, including Squadron XV, and was responsible for the strategic bombing of Germany during the Second World War.
When the command was founded in 1936 it was only intended to be a deterrent, but the reality when war broke out three years later was very different.
Bomber command crews suffered incredibly high casualty rates. A total of 55,573 died out of 125,000 (44.4 per cent mortality rate), 8,403 were injured and 9,838 became prisoners of war.
Most who flew were very young and the vast majority were still in their late teens. Crews came from across the globe – from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all corners of the Commonwealth, as well as from occupied nations including Poland, France and Czechoslovakia.
It took astonishing courage to endure the conditions they faced. Flying at night over occupied Europe, running the gauntlet of German night fighters, anti-aircraft fire and mid-air collisions.
The RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF’s bomber forces from 1936 to 1968 and was responsible for the strategic bombing of Germany during the Second World War
But it was not until 1942 that the Bomber Command gained a real sense of direction, with the introduction of Air Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris.
Harris was appointed as commander in chief of Bomber Command in February 1942, with instructions to start attacking German industry, much of which was located in large cities.
His objective was to destroy Germany’s industrial might and create a collapse in the morale of the civilian workforce, breaking Germany’s will to fight on.
Times were hard. Victory seemed distant, and chivalric notions of war fighting had been burned away in the fire of the Blitz. U-Boats were roaming the Atlantic, sinking merchant shipping in an effort to starve Britain into submission.
The prospects of success were uncertain. Morale among British workers had largely held firm in the teeth of prolonged attacks by the German Air Force.
Harris, however, firmly believed that through a combination of improved aircraft like the Lancaster and Halifax, better training and navigational aids, and a ruthless will to press the attack, Bomber Command could knock Germany out of the war.
Bomber command crews suffered incredibly high casualty rates. A total of 55,573 died out of 125,000 (44.4 per cent mortality rate), 8,403 were injured and 9,838 became prisoners of war. Pictured: Wellington Bomber air crew who took part in the raid on Heligoland
In May 1942, Harris launched his first ‘thousand bomber raid’ against Cologne.
The scale of the attacks shocked Germany, but the country continued to fight. Further attacks did have a devastating effect on the Nazi war economy.
Albert Speer, the German armaments minister, believed that a series of raids like that on Hamburg in August 1943, repeated in quick succession, might well have compelled Germany to surrender. But that wasn’t the case.
Other more specialised operations also took place. The famous ‘Dam Busters’ raid of May 1943 shocked the world with its audacity, as Guy Gibson’s 617 Squadron launched a daring raid on the dams surrounding the Ruhr Valley.
Other attacks, like that on the battleship Tirpitz the following year, eliminated the German navy’s last major surface ship.
Raids in 1944 and 1945 against German ‘V weapon’ launch sites were also a crucial defensive measure, helping to limit attacks from flying bombs and rockets on British cities.
Bomber Command switched its attentions to tactical objectives in early 1944, helping to pave the way for D-Day, the allied invasion of occupied Europe.
It played a vital and highly effective role attacking infrastructure around the invasion beaches. Attacking railways, roads and other transport links created chaos behind German lines, preventing the defending forces from massing to repel the landings.
The closing months of the war saw arguably the most controversial operations, such as the raid on Dresden in February 1945.
In four huge raids by the RAF and United States Army Air Force, a firestorm destroyed the city centre and killed thousands of civilians.
It took astonishing courage to endure the conditions they faced. Flying at night over occupied Europe, running the gauntlet of German night fighters, anti-aircraft fire and mid-air collisions. Pictured: Bomber Command crews prepare for the raid on Heligoland
The planners of the raid argued the city was a vital communications hub and needed to be targeted. The critics said that Germany was well beaten and the bombing was needless.
The truth is that it was a time of total war, and ideas about the boundaries of conflict were very different than those we have today.
Bomber Command did not win the Second World War independently – but the war could not have been won without their efforts.
The RAF’s attacks forced Germany to divert invaluable men, guns, aircraft and equipment to defend its airspace, effectively opening a second front long before D-Day.
The young men of Bomber Command faced dangers that today we can barely imagine, all in defence of our freedom. Their sacrifice and extraordinary courage should never be forgotten.
Source: Bomber Command Memorial