Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Arthur The Cat

Well, that what we call the ickle fluffy bird-torturing  toxoplasmosis-carrying puddy-cat that wanders across our garden to his favourite crapping place, just like the other half-dozen wandering felines we are plagued with.

You see we are dog-sitting an eleven year-old Labrador retired guide dog who sometimes forgets her arthritis when a cat appears ten yards in front of where she's relaxing. The other day we heard a yowelling screech followed by a very happy dog wandering in doing the canine equivalent of a victory roll. No blood on her but later on that evening a mograt claw fell out of her thick fur onto the carpet.

We call the mograt "Arthur" because we reckon that only half a cat* jumped back into the neighbouring feline faeces-free garden, ie where the mograts get fed. Haven't seen a cat since. Dogs will be dogs, just like cats are cats.

I blame the inequitable Animals Act 1971 which formalised the free spirit legal prerogative of feline vermin to roam over others' properties without any responsibility attached to their owners for any damage they cause. I understand the Canadian's have a better system: there one can set humane feral cat traps in your garden, ring the local cat protection society to collect the full traps and the cat owners are then charged a $Can 100 release fee. It encourages responsible cat owners (an oxymoron unless they get the cats sterilised) and protects wildlife and reduces the tonnage of fly-tipped cat filth.

Anyway, as it is illegal to administer vitamin lead to feline vermin, click on this link to a very enjoyable game of skill. called Clay Kitten Shooting.

*actually, I found no trace of cat in our garden so the worst the mograt got was much, much less than what they give each other - we found clumps of ginger fur on our lawns the morning after two cats fought a few months ago.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The 1939-45 Naval Blockade of Germany

Despite the well-documented effects of the Naval Blockade on Germany in WWI, plans were made in secret from the late 1930's onwards for the creation of  a "shadow" Ministry of Economic Warfare and the Admiralty Contraband Control Service that would be activated in the event of another war with Germany. Those involved knew the human ramifications of blockade since 1918 as between 400,000-700,000 fatalities and a in 1940 a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study estimated the number of German deaths from malnutrition in WWI at 600,000.

The Import Blockade was announced on 4 September 1939 as this Daily Telegraph reprint shows and was extended to German exports as well by Order in Council on 27 November 1939. Learning from WWI experience, neutral continental countries like Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway were soon presented with draft treaties forbidding any increase in exports to Germany over pre-war levels under threat of losing bunker facilities etc.

Many ships, yachts and trawlers were chartered by the Amiralty (trawlers for £366 per year) to augment Royal Navy destroyers and sloops on contraband control patrols. This was at a time when there was a shortage of escort vessels for merchant shipping convoys at risk of sinking from U-Boats.

The policy was popular with the British public because it involved little risk to the sailors and civil servants charged with implementing it. It fitted in well with the spirit of the "Phoney War". Newspaper articles describing the work of the Contraband Control Service in 1939 appeared in Picture Post and War Illustrated. Monthly totals of seized goods were published. The Powell and Pressburger film Contraband was released in  May 1940. Another, The Big Blockade, was released in 1942. Most interestingly, Life Magazine published an excellent and comprehensive seven page article on conraband control in January 1940 (pp44-51 in this googlebooks version). Note this section of the article:

"Few people know of the vast, carefully planned system that is not only blockading Germany but directingthe wealth of the British Empire against where it hurts most, attempting to choke the life out of the Third Reich. "Starving Germany out" is a phrase frowned on by London offialdom and is always deleted by the censor - in defence to the sensibilities of humanitarian neutrals. But that is the Ministry's job." 

And the effect of the naval blockade on Germany and Occupied Europe during WW2?  With the occupation of the Continent its worst effect was mainly felt by civilians in occupied countries as Germany grabbed the food it needed to feed its people. By December 1940, Belgium was already down to starvation rations - 960 calories per day. This is what wikipedia writes about the subject.

So, a policy to starve the enemy of all the means to fight a modern, Total War was implemented from day two onwards, months before a single bomb had fallen anywhere in the British Isles. It was very well publicised to boost domestic morale, something that opponents of Area Bombing use as another stick to beat the reputation of Sir Arthur Harris.

But anyone who knows the English/British way of war, ie we stop playing cricket when they stop bowling and start shooting instead, is comfortable with the use of overwhelming force against an enemy to get the war over with as quickly as possible. Doubtless the use of longbows at Agincourt was unfair because the French knights were only protected against blows from other knights.

Friday, 13 July 2012


The S4B Board

Is it just cynical old me or does everyone who doesn't trouser £200k as a CEO of our Mickey Mouse government agencies, local councils and companies who provide contracted-out services believe that the whole country is now being run by a company called S4B?

Problems recruiting security guards? Call S4B. Need to massage the jobless stats? S4B can help. Look, they must be better because the Civil Service can't do the same job description and make a profit.

Never heard of S4B? That's because it's still listed in the phone book under its old name of Sh&t For Brains; they're not on the interweb because they're not very good at computamabobs ( but they're cheap, so outsource your IT department to them).

Remember, it's only customers that get hurt if things go wrong and if you are unlucky enough not to operate a monopoly, you can always get new customers from other companies who use S4B.

News update: S4B has just been awarded a contract to run the NHS. Must rember to feed the patients.

(With thanks to the Monty Python team)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Protect Our National Heroes

I think of English History as a wood of mixed broadleaf trees, the heroes that tower above the rest of us, the equally necessary undergrowth, brambles, bracken, bluebells and other flowers. Marxist history passed me by; I'm an instinctive Whig viewer of history. Arguably, it's a romantic rose-tinted way of looking, an Our Island Story view with a good dollop of 1066 And All That on top. It's a good way to appreciate the overall span of progress - which, evey good Whig historian kno is not continuous but retreats and advances like waves on the beach as the tide ebbs and flows. I then plait onto that thread books on specific events, biographies and subjects until sometimes the original thread is as thick as a treetrunk (a thick one). And I can wander at will in the wood, looking around, sometimes at the canopy, sometimes at the ground. What a splendid, diverse heritage we have.

But some people believe that certain heroes should be cut down because they do not meet the moral requirements of the present day. Well I can find fault in everybody except myself, naturally, but I know that no person can ever be perfect and allow them to grow on upwards. Sometimes I revise my opinion on characters I hitherto thought little of, like Clement Attlee who has shot up recently in my history wood.

If our heroes are demoted then pretty soon we will be in a history version of that scene in A Man For All Seasons:

William Roper:So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Because, without our heroes of the past and present we have nothing to look forward to and the optimistic bluebell wood of our heritage that inspires us to do great things turns into the muddy wreck pictured at the top of this article and we might as well pull the duvet up and stay in bed or live in Belgium - only joking, I know about several famous Belgians.

Corporate Blogs - Ignore Them

Richard North, writing at Independent Bloggers doesn't like them and neither do I.

They are the professional in what is meant to be an easy access arena for amateurs. It's like the days of the pamphleteers after the monopoly of scribes and parchment was broken by Guttenburg. They aren't satisfied with writing for newspapers or appearing on TV but must muscle into the shallow end of the information/comment pool as well. They use their big brand names and high profile like inflatable crocodiles to swamp out the other bloggers.

I don't like the way they hide behind corporate websites and email addresses and criticise ordinary bloggers who wish to post anonymously. It's called privacy, a word the newspaper industry is slowly relearning. So what if they have their name and picture published at the top of their columns. Do they not think that many suppose those names are pen-names, like William Hickey, whoever they are or photos of models who speak the words of anonymous hacks (funny how that word has lost its popularity as a synonym for journalists recently). Either way,  I'm not bothered as I simply read what is written.

But Cloggers can discover the names and addresses of bloggers if they wish, using perfectly legitimate means, safe in the knowledge that their own trail ends at a London office block.  Woo hoo, how big, how brave of them. Like flying over tribesmen in a bomber.  Perhaps blogging by skype is the best option. But any choice must be voluntary and not driven by the cloggers.

I'm not saying they should be banned, that's not the way things are done in the blogosphere.

Just ignore them, they'll soon go away.

Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris And Area Bombing - My Final Words

May I begin by apologising to Peter Hitchens for bringing up his former political convictions  and present religious beliefs in my first blogpost on the subject. It was wrong of me to attack him personally and call him names, he will appreciate from our private email correspondence that having experienced that myself I should not do it to others. Normally I don't, but an incorrect belief on my part that Peter Hitchens had claimed that David Cameron had never really been put through any major test in his life (despite him, his wife and children caring deeply for his late son Ivan, during his short life), stung me for personal reasons that he knows of and I over-reacted against someone I disliked. On searching the interweb, I have found that Peter Hitchens had admitted he was wrong and apologised. I hope he won't mid if I use a similar formulation when I write that I was wrong and I am sorry.

On 22 April 2013 Peter Hitchens wrote "I think 'Brian' of Coventry (who I believe has his own website elsewhere, to which he is very welcome) has now duly qualified for indefinite 'Background Noise' status, with added lasagne, attained by a number of other contributors." As a consequence of his incorrigibly boorish and arrogant attitude I have retracted the apology above. Anthony Howard was right about him when he wrote, "the old revolutionary socialist has lost nothing of his passion and indignation as the years have passed us all by. It is merely the convictions that have changed, not the fervour and fanaticism with which they continue to be held".

Now, on to "Rebuttal Redux"....

ACM Harris (as he then was) may have been called "Butcher" or "Butch" by his crews, but that was because they were an elite band of highly-trained volunteers who were aware of the risks involved, yet they still clambered over the mainspar or latched themselves into the rear turret for as long as they were able to. It was the black humour of comradeship in adversity. General Patton was called "Old Blood and Guts" despite losing fewer men than the rifleman's general, General Bradley. Harris was blunt, telling the gathered aircrew on a rare visit to a station at the height of the offensive, to look at the men to the left and right of them because in six months' time they would be the only ones alive, but two ranks higher. He was greeted with cheers and table-thumping.

Was Harris really so ready to sacrifice his aircrews' lives when, in 1940 as AOC 5 Group, he arranged with a local engineering firm, Rose Brothers, for the mid-upper gun position on the Hampdens in his command to be mounted with twin VGO machine guns in place of the standard single one? Harris raged against the manufacturer of the obsolete Hampden and inadequate early Halifax and struggled to have the too-slow and insufficient altitude Stirling taken off operations as soon as possible. Throughout his tenure he wanted the best aircraft for his aircrew, the Lancaster, and pushed for improvements in its self-defence. The story of the failure to adopt the .50 calibre Browning machine gun as the standard defensive weapon of RAF bombers is too complex to be told here, suffice to say that there was a shortage of these weapons until 1944 and problems with designing and producing suitable gun turrets due to competing priorities. Harris again put the problem to Rose Brothers, who eventually produced 400 of their Rose-Rice twin .50 tail turrets for Lancasters from late 1944 onwards. Hearing that a purchase order with the company was delayed, Harris said "Tell them to build them anyway, they'll get paid."The turrets enabled rear gunners to wear their parachutes in the turret and bale out more easily and, more importantly, Lancasters fitted with them were more likely to avoid attacks  because the gunner could see nightfighters sooner and were able to instruct the pilot to take evasive action.

As for the losses of aircrews, reading Bomber Offensive written by Harris in 1947, shows that he was painfully aware of the cost. Compare those 47,000 killed with the 30,000 killed suffered by the daylight 8th AC/AF. Bear in mind that its first mission over Germany, Mission 31, wasn't until January 23 1943, its first raid on the Ruhr six months later, and Berlin not until 4 March, 1944, and one realises the huge sacrifices that American airmen bore to uphold American principles of fairness during their shorter period of operations.

Turning to the question of the Area Bombing Directive (GD No 5), it was issued on 14 February 1942 as an amendment to General Directive No 4 of 5 February (the details are on wikipedia if you haven't the books to hand). Harris took up his post as AOC Bomber Command on 22 February 1942 after his return from America where he had been Head of the RAF Delegation.  Of course Portal picked Harris because he knew that Harris believed in the policy; they had been friends since the 'Twenties.  it's the sort of basic question I have asked and been asked at every recruitment interview I've attended. "And, tell me Mr Harris, why do you want to work for Bomber Command?" There were other candidates with a good CV for the job, AVM Bottomley, DCAS, for example, who actually drafted the General Directive, and would succeed Harris in 1945. Or AVM Slessor, or a host of other Air officers who had, as part of their career management, all taken operational and staff appointments in other commands. Harris, with his experience in the early 'Thirties of flying boats, could have headed Coastal Command. In addition, despite the war, the RAF continued its policy of alternate staff and operational postings. Thus, AVM Baldwin, AOC of 3 Group and temporary AOC Bomber Command after Peirse's sacking for high loss rates, was not considered (although the Channel Dash may have blotted his copybook) and was sent out to India in October 1942. Remember that Montgomery only became commander of the Eighth Army when General Gott was killed when his Bristol Bombay was shot down.
The Area Bombing Directive was superseded on 21 January 1943 by the Casablanca Directive or POINTBLANK. With hindsight, it is clear now that the surrender of Paulus at Stalingrad on 2 February was a turning point after which Hitler's defeat was only a matter of time. Yet German forces kept fighting fiercely up to the end of the war and were able to shock the Western Allies in December 1944 with the Ardennes Offensive. Indeed the Wermacht's genius for improvisation enabled a Medical Officer to organise from diverse support troops a very effective fighting retreat against the Red Army in Eastern Europe in early 1945. With 20/20 hindsight, and by reading Adam Tooze's masterly Wages of Destruction, one can convincingly argue that Stalingrad was not the turning point but the stopping of the German attack on Moscow outside Tula on 29 October 1941 was the "First El Alamein" moment that enabled the subsequent  "Second El Alamein" End of the Beginning.

Could the RAF have conducted Daylight Precision Bombing?

Well it did so on a smaller scale throughout the war. That was the job of 2 Group, which became part of 2TAF in the run-up to D-Day.  Although Whitleys were almost immediately restricted to night operations on account of their slow speed, Hampdens continued to be used in daylight as target practice for the Lutwaffe until Portal, then C-in-C Bomber Command, put them on nights as well after the disasterous Kristiansand raid against the German fleet on 12 April 1940. Blenheims and later Bostons, Venturas and Mitchells continued to be used in daylight despite suffering heavy losses. Even with fighter escorts to protect them, and other bombers such as Stirlings and Halifaxes on mainly port attacks at the behest of the Royal Navy, in raids called Ramrods and Circuses, they achieved little except hard won knowledge of what the Luftwaffe experienced in the daylight Battle of Britain. In addition, there were daylight low-level raids by Lancasters (Augsburg) and Halifaxes on rare occasions throughout the war. Despite the best efforts to be accurate, civilian casualties were often heavy.

But there was the de Havilland Mosquito. This unarmed high-speed bomber suffered 8% (ie about Blenheim levels) during its first 284 operational sorties in 1942. Consequently, the two squadrons which introduced the B.IV variant were transferred to the Light Night Striking Force by November. There were daylight raids by FB.VIs but these had armament  to defend themselves at the expense of reduced bombload (don't believe the Magic Mossies of 633 Squadron!).
Of course, after D-Day, and the virtual disappearance of the Luftwaffe over France, Lancasters were able to fly escorted daylight raids in areas of Allied air superiority.

Thus the RAF was not equipped to fly daylight precision raids with heavy bombers after its first experiments failed - Why was this?

1  It was never foreseen that France would  surrender in 1940. Bomber Command was therefore equipped with aircraft that would attack Germany from French airfields ( provided the French agreed, which they didn't because they lacked an integrated detection/command/interception system akin to the RAF's.)
Bomber Command thus started the war with aircraft similar in size and capability to Luftwaffe bombers, none of which were strategic in capability. The Lutwaffe discovered that its bombers, even with escorting fighters on the relatively short return trip that was contested from the Channel coast to London, were no match for well-handled fighters.
2  The RAF had trained its bomber crews to fly individually at night to bomb targets. Hence the all over NiVO dark green camouflage inherited from the O/400s of WWI was replaced on aircraft built after Munich by a scheme with matt black undersurfaces. Unfortunately, pre-war Bomber Command lacked Fighter Command's boffins and neglected to develop electronic navigation aids, despite Lorenz and American technology being available. It was assumed that good eyesight was sufficient to allow map-reading, something disproved by the hundreds of aircraft that crashed at night pre-war on training exercises.
3  It was assumed, based on reports from the Spanish Civil War, that a formation of bombers with nose, tail and perhaps ventral turrets would be able to bring sufficient combined firepower on attacking enemy fighter aircraft to drive them off. The relatively high speeds of bombers, it was believed, made interception a fleetingly difficult task for fighter aircraft, hence the concept of the turret fighter which could bring its guns to bear for longer on each pass and also allow nil-deflection shooting was developed. Indeed, the Defiant was intended to supplant the Spitfire in squadron service as an interceptor (facepalm). The armament of .303 calibre machine guns was selected, a) for convenience, and b) because someone had done the sums and worked out that they delivered the most kinetic energy on a target in the time available.
4   The RAF never ordered the B.1/39 Ideal Bomber because the war and non-availability of suitable engines and working 40 mm gun turrets) got in the way. They would come too late to be useful.  Existing designs like the Stirling, Halifax and Manchester/Lancaster were used instead. These lacked the higher service ceilings of the B-17 and B-24 partly because their engines were not turbosupercharged.
5   The Wellington Mk V high altitude bomber with pressurised crew compartment was unsuccessful because Bristol were unable to get its turbosupercharged Hercules engine variant to work properly at altitude. Consequently, it was replaced by the Mk VI with Merlin 61s. These were never issued to squadrons because by the time they were built the much better Mosquito B.IX and later B.XVI were available. The Avro 684 high altitude version of the Lancaster with an extra Merlin to drive the turbosuperchargers and the Vickers pressure cabin was not proceeded with because of shortage of drawing office capacity etc.

Why didn't Bomber Command use those Mosquito B.IX and B.XVIs with bulged bomb bay doors and 4,000lb blockbuster bomb payload to replace its heavy bombers?

After all, they could fly to Berlin and back twice faster than a Stirling. In theory, and this theory dates back to R A Volkert's  1937 paper for the RAF on an unarmed high speed Handley-Page bomber, by dispensing with gunners one reduces the number of aircrew at risk. However, both the B.IX, which was quite short-legged with its full payload, andthe B.XVI, with range improved by underwing tanks, were significantly more difficult to handle than the "above average pilot only" ordinary Mosquitoes. There would have been a shortage of suitable pilots. In addition, switching production from Lancasters and Halifaxes to Mosquitoes would have caused supply disruption for Mosquito nightfighters, fighter- bombers and Halifax maritime patrol and glider-tug production at a crucial point in the war (Pre D-Day).

Why didn't the RAF develop a long-range escort fighter to protect its bombers on daylight precision raids?

A good point. The cliche is that British fighters have always been short-range interceptors because gaining altitude quickly is more important to meet attackers raiding our small island. The two pre-war aircraft that are put forward as escort fighter types are the Bristol Beaufighter and Westland Whirlwind. I'll ignore the Gloster "Reaper" because, like the TSR2 it would never have worked for several reasons. The Beaufighter was an excellent heavy, long-range fighter-bomber but no match for single-engined fighters. The Whirlwind was nippy at low altitude and carried a heavy cannon armament, but was slightly too small (plus it used under-developed engines) to be developed further, even with drop-tanks.

The trend for twin-engined fighters was due to the relatively limited power to weight ratio of aero engines before higher octane fuel, improved metallurgy for engine components, developments in turbosuperchargers and general reliability improvements (derived from experience with the huge numbers of engines in use) allowed horse power per cubic inch capacity to be increased by 60-70% in the case of the RR Merlin. This meant that a single-engined aircraft was able to lift the additional fuel needed for extended range.

In addition, the increased length of runways also enabled aircraft to take off at higher weights than obtained on 300-400 yard grass strips common pre-war and during the Battle of Britain.

Why couldn't the Spitfire have been developed as an escort fighter? After all, a Spitfire PR.IV flew over Berlin in daylight on 14 March 1941. Unfortunately, Pho-Reconnaissance Spitfire wings were essentially petrol tanks with no room for guns. But what about those two Spitfire MkIXs that flew across the Atlantic non-stop from St John's Nova Scotia to Ballykelly in Northern Ireland? Well, there were problems with drop tank separation, but they could be engineered away with time. Unfortunately, by the time of the Atlantic flight the ideal P-51D escort fighter was available. .

It can be argued that the RAF developed the P-51 escort-fighter for the USAAF. The NA-73X prototype was designed and built to fulfil an RAF requirement for a fighter because North American Aviation didn't want to build its competitor's Curtiss P-40. The USAAC didn't use the first Mustangs as fighters but as A-36 dive-bombers.  And then in 1942, Rolls-Royce swappd the low-altitude Allison engine for a Merlin 61 engine to produce the high altitude-capable Mustang MkX. Eventually, it was accepted for testing by the pro- P-38, P-39, P-47 USAAC and produced as the P-51B/C. And then using the blown bubble canopy idea first used on the Miles M.20 to improve visibility, the superlative P-51 wa created.

The P-51D's advantage over the Spitfire in speed and range was due to two factors, more effective use of the Meredith effect to generate thrust from radiator heat , and its laminar flow wing. It was five years newer than the incrementally-improved Spitfire. The laminar flow wing profile was only partly good because it obtained reduced drag at the expense of poor stall characteristics. Thus pilots preferred "boom and zoom" combat, relying on straight- line speed instead of turning fights where possible. But The P-51D was good enough to more than hold its own when in large packs with its far better-trained pilots against the dwindling Luftwaffe, which had been steadily attrited and restaffed with steadily more inexperienced pilots since the Battle of France in 1940, such was the fuel shortage and the losses in the East, Mediterranean and Northern European theatres . It was akin to the use of Sherman tanks in Normandy against Tigers where superiority of numbers won.

So why didn't the RAF adopt the P-51D/ Mustang IV as a long range escort fighter for its heavy bombers? Simples, despite the phenomenal manufacturing capacity of the US, there was a shortage of them and 8th AF took priority for re-equipment over other US air forces until well into 1944. So why not build P-51Ds under licence in the UK? The production disruption caused by stopping production of Spitfires at Castle Bromwich say to switch over to Mustangs, would have meant that 2TAF lacked the supply of ground support aircraft vital after D-Day.

Digressing slightly, the RAF used nightfighter Mosquitoes as escort fighters, in the proper sense, in support of its night-time raids from August 1943 onwards, first with Serrate-equipped fighters and then after March 1944 with its latest AI radars and other black boxes. From the start of Operation Flower in June 1943 to April 1945, more than 270 German nightfighters were shot down as they took off or landed and the fear of surprise attack by a Moskito had a significant deterrent effect on German pilots which saved countless bomber crews.

In conclusion, however, some of the technology for extending range was available and the tactics of escort fighters had been learned at short range in 1941 in Ramrods ands Circuses as Bernard Boylan's excellent Development of the Long-Range Escort Fighter, 1955 (a pleasure to re-read it for thiis post) shows. Click on No.136 to download here.

But, by dividing the air offensive between night bombing and daylight escorted  precision bombing as laid down in May 1943's Combined Bomber Offensive plan, the effect was all the greater because the threat of round-the-clock air raids disrupted the Germany war economy more than otherwise. As General Ira Eaker OC of the 8th Bomber Command put it "The devils will get no rest."

Precision Bombing versus Area Bombing

All airforces were aware that, except in ideal test conditions, precision bombing was not. It was calculated that in order to achieve a 96% probability that two 500lb bombs fell within a 400 x 500 ft area, 648 bombs would have to be dropped. Bear in mind that the 500 lb bomb dug a crater two feet deep and nine feet wide (Wordsworth in an age of human madness) and had a blast effectiveness against buildings of sixty to ninety feet.

It is obvious that the idea of precision bombing, ie aiming at a military or economic target but accepting that bombs will miss and kill civilians relies on legal sophistry for its legitimacy. There is no mens rea to kill, just as the use of explosive .50 calibre shells and tracers avoid the strict Hague Convention prohibitions on using explosive bullets and chemical warfare on soldiers is excused by aiming at the equipment or airframe. It's the sort of military logic lampooned in Catch 22 and The Good Soldier Schweik.  In the end innocent people die and are maimed.

Area Bombing is, I argue, a more honest concept. It was accepted that bombers were inaccurate so instead of aiming for a small target, aim for a larger area and trust that the target will be obliterated. Rather like the difference between aiming for the bullseye with an an inaccurate air rifle many times or once with a shotgun.

Here's an excellent article on Daylight Precision Bombing. Remember that bombers were flown in combat box formations that could be over a mile in width and that much daylight precision bombing was done through cloud by ded-reckoning or radar. In addition, for most raids, bombs were dropped by a "toggler" "on command of the lead bombardier" to  produce a carpet of bombs over the target.

Was bombing Cities Illegal?

The law lagged behind technology so the Hague Convention 1907 Articles 25 and 26 which are specifically about naval bombardment of land targets was stretched. Note that only bombardment of undefended cities was forbidden. The German cities were protected by flak guns and fighters and ARP precautions (better than for British civilians, ironically) were available.

Thankfully, the law has developed since WW2 as weapons delivery precision has increased. But that was then and this is now. If we are to apologise for area bombing, why not apologise for a host of other things that we view as crimes now or, conversely, crimes then and legal now? It would become an endless Blair apologohorrrea that would rake up animosities when a simple, practical moving onwards would be better.

Are Civilians Ever Legitimate Targets? 

Take the case of a butcher in the Army Catering Corps, never likely to meet the enemy in combat, but still eligible for a campaign medal. He is a target on account of his status as a soldier. Or an armourer in a bomb dump whose job is to fit fuses and load the bombs onto bombers. He is also a target. But what about the woman munitions worker filling shells or even the Girl

"that makes the thing that drills the hole

that holds the spring that works the thing-ummy-bob
that makes the engines roar.

And it's the girl that makes the thing that holds the oil
that oils the ring that works the thing-ummy-bob
that's going to win the war" ?

Apparently, civilian workers in oil refineries, railway marshalling yards etc are fair game and to that could be added shipyard workers, steel workers, aircraft workers, ball-bearing workers and off course the unfortunate civilians living in the working class areas around the factories who catch the 646 precision-dropped bombs that miss for every two that hit the target. Not even  the  "Not a bomb on private property*" policy requested by President Roosevelt and kept by the RAF until the day after the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam in May 1940, would have saved civilian lives.

* I used that phrase because a suggestion in the Cabinet during the Phoney War to drop incendiaries on the Black Forest was met with a shocked "But that's private property!"

The Civilians Didn't Vote For Hitler

Not all Germans were Nazi voters and so, the argument goes, it was wrong to bomb them. I suggest, in that case that it was more wrong to bomb targets in the occupied countries - what about the 140 Dutch civilians killed in the daylight raid on the Philips factory in Eindhoven or the German civilians killed in the bombing of Wesel in 1945 to enable the Americans to cross the Rhine there with fewer than 50 casualties. And what about the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the crossfire of the ground war on the continent? Did they suffer any less because their killers wore khaki not RAF Blue?

And weren't most German soldiers conscripts? How many Social Democrats did our armies shoot and shell? It's odd how fiercely those opponents of the Nazis fought in the West (given the nature of the atrocities in the East, I can understand the incentive to keep the Red Army from the Homeland) right until the end of the war.

Was There  An Alternative? 1

There was the Naval blockade. This was very successfully imposed and within a few months all German merchant ships had been driven from the seas, with the exception of the Baltic.  This policy was carried out despite the knowledge that when practised in WWI it had resulted in some 600,000 civilian deaths according to a recent study by the Carnegie Foundation. It was only the collapse of France and the occupation of neutral countries that provided Germany with sufficient food at the expense of their civilians, many of whom in the East were expected, as a Nazi policy, to starve to death. The blockade in the Mediterranean and German food requisitioning, caused the Greek Famine which led to the setting up of Oxfam. But nobody criticises our Admirals, indeed admitted naval war crimes like the renunciation of the cruiser rules for merchant shipping are ignored. And whilst a U-Boat captain was hanged after the war for killing survivors, a similar Royal Navy VC was simply given a "we don't approve,don't do it again" letter.

Was There An Alternative? 2

The navy camp claim that the build up of the bomber force diverted aircraft away from Coastal Command that would have been better used to hunt for submarines that were sinking our merchant shipping. A fair point, but remember that the greatest threat to the UK was in the first "Happy Time" as the Uboat captains called it from July 1940 to May 1941. If we look at Coastal Command's Order of Battle in November 1940 it's clear that only four squadrons of long range Sunderlands and a mixed bag of twenty odd short to medium range Ansons, Bothas, Beauforts, Blenheims, Hudsons and Stranraer was inadequate, given their inefficient maintenance schedules, to meet the threat posed by Uboats now operating on the French Atlantic coast. Perhaps Bomber Command's twenty odd Wellington, Whitley and Hampden squadrons could have been withdrawn from bombing channel ports and retrained for maritime reconnaissance? Either way, the threat to Britain's survival was lifted by the end of Spring 1941.

Should Britain Have Gone To War In 1939?

We didn't go to protect Poland which was no different to Czechoslovakia. Britain and France declared war then on the basis that they would never be stronger against Germany which was rearming just like them. People forget that Appeasement and Rearmament were a twin-track policy from 1935 onwards. People forget that the German Navy was smaller than the French Navy but that the Kriegsmarine's expansion Plan Z would have provided five super-Bismarcks and four aircraft carriers by 1945. It's now a cliche to say that Hitler didn't want to invade Britain; indeed he wanted a negotiated peace in which Britain could keep most of her Empire in return for ceding the bulk of the Royal Navy to Germany. And how long would a maritime nation dependent on imports survive independently?

After Germany occupied the continent and Britain was safe from invasion, ie our national security was not threatened, we still had a moral duty to liberate Europe, for if we were prepared to let 300 million plus people be enslaved under Nazism, isn't that more of a moral slip than area bombing allegedly was?


This rambling post is evidence, I would claim, that I have read and considered the arguments for and against Harris and Area Bombing. I have always taken it as an obvious fact needing no expansion that war is wrong. By fate and career choice I have not travelled the world and experienced war, but listening to my Grandfather when he was alive, disabused me at an early age of any thought that there could be glory in war. I do not need to be told the obvious.

I do not mind that other people can hold different opinions to me despite having studied the subject in depth. There are no right and wrong answers here. Putting forward one book as containing the definitive answer merely prompts the opposing side to counter with an alternative and so on.

I hope that the reader will agree with my conclusion that the cases for and against precision and area bombing in WW2 are evenly balanced and if WW2 was repeated many decisions should be altered (to make different, unforeseen errors) but I'm reminded of the old joke about the best way to Dublin, "But I wouldn't start from here."


I recommend David Edgerton's excellent book Britain's War Machine.

And it goes without saying that Bomber Offensive by Harris and Bomber Harris: His Life And Times by Probert are worth reading before issuing judgement on the man. Or google what Lord Cheshire VC said about Harris on the unveiling of his statue.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Arthur Harris – a response from Peter Hitchens

The author of this article ( whose name I know, though he prefers not to make it public) launched an attack on me in his article of 4th July. Most of it is answered in the postings to which he provides links in the article ( but which he does not appear to have read with any care) but also here  and here.

I will take a number of points from this attack. First is the absurdly patronising opening, in which our host writes as if to a fairly dim child that bad things happen in wars, as if I didn’t know that. Has he been in a war zone? I have, more than once, and it is because I have that I find such stuff tiresome. It is all very well to adopt a pose of machismo about conflict. Wait until you have seen what happens to someone’s head when a bullet has passed through it, or been in an overburdened and inadequate hospital full of wounded people. Then imagine these things happening to you, or to people dear to you.

This balance between the need for war and its costs is not well-understood in a culture which has for almost 70 years glorified World War Two as a ‘good war’ , often in films which of necessity conceal the horror, or attribute bad deeds only to the losers. I regard this as a gross oversimplification, and a serious and damaging self-deception.

Our host is dismissive about religion, asserting that it was ‘invented as a comforter to the hurt’. Well, that is one way of describing the self-sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and the accompanying scripture and thought, but it wouldn’t be mine. If the author can’t grasp the significance and power of other people’s beliefs, that is his loss. But I think history shows he is unwise to dismiss them as unimportant or trivial. How many divisions has Jesus Christ? It might be too early to tell. None of us knows for certain that death is the end. If, rather than being a full stop, it is the moment at which we encounter justice and mercy (largely absent from this world), then it is at least interesting to wonder what is and is not just, and what we might do to seek mercy.

Arguments about just war have continued for many centuries. The subject is often a very difficult balance. It is possible, for instance, to argue that the *unintentional* killing of innocents, as a result of an action with a good purpose, is justifiable. But that is not the subject under discussion here. What we did in the bombing of Germany was the deliberate killing of civilians by fire and blast. You may try to express machismo about that, but it would seem to me to be a poor sort of man who exulted over deliberately and consciously bringing about the deaths of women, pensioners and babies.

Very few have sought to argue that the *deliberate* killing of unarmed women and children could come under the heading of ‘Just War’ . Indeed, Britain’s political leaders and military chiefs were filled with revulsion at such actions until well into the war. And Harris was actively annoyed that Churchill would not publicly admit the true nature of what our bombers were doing. It is fairly obvious why Churchill did not want to do so. He, an experienced warrior who was far from squeamish, was more than a little uncomfortable about it. If in doubt about the efforts made to avoid bombing civilians in the pre-Harris Bomber Command, he should read the early chapters of Max Hasting’s excellent book ‘Bomber Command’.

I am. Bizarrely, attacked here for having been a Trotskyist 40 years ago –a thing have both admitted to, apologised for and repudiated. As it happens, I imagine Trotsky would have been quite happy with this form of warfare, if his pamphlet ‘Their Morals and Ours’ is anything to go by. Is our host happy to be in the company of Lev Davidovich Trotsky, the butcher of Kronstadt?

I don’t know what he intends by referring to me as a ‘fundamentalist Christian’, though I assume he hopes to suggest some sort of fanaticism. I am, as it happens a communicant broad-church Anglican. He may regard that as ‘fundamentalist’. If so, I can do nothing about it.

He then gives a rather partial (and in my view misleading) version of the history of Sir Arthur Harris, the main object of my attack. He says Harris ‘inherited’ its area bombing doctrine (the nice way of describing the policy of deliberately killing German civilians). He also speaks of Bomber Command having had a ‘most successful period’, as if its success is a matter beyond dispute. Actually, it isn’t. he really should read A.C.Grayling’s book ‘Among the Dead Cities’.

The main suggestion here (apart from a prejudice in favour of the accepted war propaganda version of events, which I should have thought any mature person would view with scepticism even at the time, let alone so long afterwards) is that Harris was a cypher without views or objectives of his own, who took over a policy and fulfilled it, merely following orders. In fact Harris was picked by Sir Charles Portal for the job precisely because Portal knew that Harris believed in the policy. The Area Bombing Directive, which launched the policy, dates from February 1942, close to Harris’s appointment, and the policy only really reached full power in and after March 1943. By that time, as it happened, the course of the war was already decided by the Soviet victory at Stalingrad (2nd February 1943), after which Hitler’s defeat was only a matter of time.

Harris was enthusiastically in charge during the most important period of the operation of the policy, and he himself would have snorted with derision if anyone had tried to claim he was not fully engaged with it.

Our host says that ‘like most other thinking people’ ( as if numbers decided questions of right and wrong, and as if those who disagreed with him are perhaps not thinking, or even unthinking) grudgingly accept Area Bombing as ‘the best of two bad options’.

What does he mean?
What is the other option? I do not think he is referring to Sir Henry Tizard’s argument (he lost to Lord Cherwell, who preferred deliberately killing civilians) that Bomber Command should instead have attacked military and industrial targets. Is he then suggesting that in some way the Bombing of women and children in their homes was essential to our national survival? This is simply not true. After Hitler invade the USSR in June 1941, there was no existential threat to Britain (it is arguable as to whether there had been one before, as there was never any serious plan for a German invasion of this country). What is more, until the much later V-1 and V-2 offensives, German bombing of Britain (which never at any stage reached the levels we inflicted on Germany under Harris) was much reduced after Hitler turned East. The only truly severe threat (as acknowledged by Churchill) was from German submarines to our food, fuel and munitions supplies. And it is well known that the huge concentration of men, material and money on deliberately bombing civilians in their homes in the dark diverted strength away from Coastal Command, which was therefore unable to fight as effectively as it could have done against the U-boats.

The author (and this to me is a sign that he has never seriously considered the opposing case, probably because he fears to do so) wrongly attributes to me the view that ‘Not a single bomb must fall on private property’. I don’t think this and never said it. I accept that, if you bomb military targets, you are bound to hit civilian targets unintentionally. This is quite distinct form the Harris policy of deliberately bombing civilians in their homes.

The author points out (and I do not deny) that daylight formation bombing with fighter escorts is difficult. I don’t deny it. He points out (as I also do not deny) that daylight bombing does not achieve pinpoint accuracy. I never said it did. It is nonetheless both more militarily effective, and more morally justifiable, than burning German Social Democrats, Hitler’s principal opponents, to death.

Vitally, the powerful argument that the bombing campaign diverted weapons and manpower from the Eastern Front and the Atlantic coastal defences applies equally to daylight bombing. We didn’t have to bomb civilians deliberately to get the Germans to defend themselves against air attack. Actually, Harris had to be forced to divert his bombers to attacks on real targets before and during D-day ( and they were very effective), he wanted to carry on bombing houses.

I have already dealt with the weaselly smear of anti-Semitism, carefully not directed against me, but bunged in there anyway, just for luck. Shame on him. Once more, it is a sign of a person who isn’t prepared to argue seriously.

I think my critic should read more carefully, and argue more seriously.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Previous Post Removed - An Apology

I can't afford to be sued for libel so I've removed the previous post and unreservedly apologise for causing offence to anyone who was offended by it.

Update 6 July 2012: Following yesterday's correspondence I will reinstate the original post and publish Peter Hitchens' comments on it. My offer to him of the opportunity to publish a rebuttal on this blog with full editorial freedom and equal prominence stands. Email me at GallimaufryandChips AT hotmail DOT co DOT uk instead of the previous  incorrect "com" suffix.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Peter Hitchens Is Incorrect About Sir Arthur Harris And Bombing Policy

In an ideal world there wouldn't be war. In a less than ideal world only combatants would die, nobly and painlessly of course, directly or indirectly because of war. But this is this world where nasty things happen every day and nice people sometimes have to fight dirty to survive against nasty people. Innocent people get caught up in the middle. To solve that problem, religion was invented as a comforter for the hurt, who were taught to be stoic.

Peter Hitchens has used the recent unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park to attack the reputation of Sir Arthur Harris here and here, who headed Bomber Command during its most successful period, having inherited its area bombing doctrine. He thinks that those of us who support the policy are wrong because he knows otherwise. Once a Trotskyite, always a Christian fundamentalist, I suppose. Actually, I, like most other thinking people, grudgingly accept Area Bombing as the best of two bad options, just as I can accept that many people in the third world don't have the same standard of living as me.

Apparently, Bomber Command should have bombed only military targets in daylight, and if that meant increasing the armour and armament on bombers and developing long range escort fighters to enable bomber fleets to fight their way across Europe so be it. Not a single bomb must fall on private property. Ignore the fact that all three British heavy bombers (and B-17s and B-24s) lacked the service ceilings to cruise at altitudes out of reach of flak, or that even at the end of the war navigation aids were not 100% GPS reliable and the weather on the continent meant even the USAAF often bombed blind through cloud using H2X radar (even the famed Norden bombsight couldn't "drop a bomb from 20,000 ft into a pickle barrel" if the bombardier couldn't see the ground). This is what the US Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report September 1945 stated:

The U. S. Army Air Forces entered the European war with the firm view that specific industries and services were the most promising targets in the enemy economy, and they believed that if these targets were to be hit accurately, the attacks had to be made in daylight. A word needs to be said on the problem of accuracy in attack. Before the war, the U. S. Army Air Forces had advanced bombing techniques to their highest level of development and had trained a limited number of crews to a high degree of precision in bombing under target range conditions, thus leading to the expressions "pinpoint" and "pickle barrel" bombing. However, it was not possible to approach such standards of accuracy under battle conditions imposed over Europe. Many limiting factors intervened; target obscuration by clouds, fog, smoke screens and industrial haze; enemy fighter opposition which necessitated defensive bombing formations, thus restricting freedom of manoeuvre; antiaircraft artillery defences, demanding minimum time exposure of the attacking force in order to keep losses down; and finally, time limitations imposed on combat crew training after the war began.

It was considered that enemy opposition made formation flying and formation attack a necessary tactical and technical procedure. Bombing patterns resulted -- only a portion of which could fall on small precision targets. The rest spilled over on adjacent plants, or built-up areas, or in open fields. Accuracy ranged from poor to excellent. When visual conditions were favourable and flak defences were not intense, bombing results were at their best. Unfortunately, the major portion of bombing operations over Germany had to be conducted under weather and battle conditions that restricted bombing technique, and accuracy suffered accordingly. Conventionally the air forces designated as "the target area" a circle having a radius of 1000 feet around the aiming point of attack. While accuracy improved during the war, Survey studies show that, in the over-all, only about 20% of the bombs aimed at precision targets fell within this target area. A peak accuracy of 70% was reached for the month of February 1945. These are important facts for the reader to keep in mind, especially when considering the tonnages of bombs delivered by the air forces. Of necessity a far larger tonnage was carried than hit German installations.”

Indeed, the USAAF changed tactics from high altitude, escorted daylight raids over Japan in early 1945 to low-level, nighttime area bombing raids because its B-29s were not hitting the factories and military facilities with sufficient accuracy.
Daylight precision raids did not guarantee safety for civilians. Four examples, the raid on the Gestapo HQ at the Shellhuis in Amsterdam in 1944, and the raids on Gestapo HQ in Oslo, the Philips radio factory in Eindhoven and the Le Creusot foundry, all in 1942, incurred substantial civilian fatalities and were very expensive in crews and aircraft - 15% for the Philips raid. Similarly, the lowlevel daylight raid by Lancasters on Augsburg in 1942 failed at a cost proportionately greater than the Dams Raid.
The Anti-Bomber Command Mob claim that heavy bombers diverted resources from the other services where they could have been used more effectively in the prosecution of the war. The usual argument is that Coastal Command lacked squadrons of long range patrol aircraft because Bomber Command had all the suitable aircraft. This argument falls down flat when one learns that Stirlings and Halifaxes were not in operational squadron service until Spring 1941 onwards and not in largish numbers until well into 1942. There were always only about a dozen VLR Liberators in the early war years because production and development was just cranking up. Squadrons flew Ansons because the Saro Lerwick was a flop and production was cancelled in November 1939 causing a production gap. Sunderlands, like Stirlings, were designed by a company used to small production runs and took ages to build because, as peacetime designs they were meant to last. I agree that Coastal and the FAA should have been given more resources but that was because of the Royal Navy's obsession with its battlefleet. It could be argued that building anti-submarine escort destroyers and corvettes was a comparative waste of resources as aircraft sunk more U Boats.
The bomber campaign meant that fighter aicraft, anti-aircraft guns and troops were kept in Germany when those same 88mm guns would have wrought more carnage against T-34s on the Eastern Front. More importantly for Britain, Canada and America, those aircraft, guns, troops, concrete and steel could not be used on the coast of Festung Europa - D-Day and the ground campaign would have been like Dieppe every day. Indeed, by fighting the bomber campaign and not invading Northern Europe (don't forget Italy) until 1944 when the Eastern Front war was rolling back rapidly towards Germany, it could be argued that Britain saved over a half million lives if the casualty rates of WWI in Northern France were experienced (which they were in Normandy) over a longer timescale. In addition, although some 600,000 civilians were killed by bombing, how many millions more were killed in Eastern Europe, especially, either directly from shelling etc or indirectly by starvation and exposure as the ground war moved across the continent?
Finally, just as the internet has its Godwin's Law that states that the probability of comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis increases with the duration of any debate, I have discovered Gallimaufry's Law which states that the more vehemently someone argues that area bombing was a war crime, the more likely that person is to be a holocaust denier. There is a deep need among extreme anti-semites to establish moral equivalence between the Nazis and the Allies in order to lessen the uniquely nasty crimes of that regime and its lackeys. Those people do not condemn the indiscriminately targeted V-1 and V-2 weapons. As for the argument that the German people were innocent, were those homeless Germans in Hamburg who were given by the local gauleiter in compensation the undamaged houses and furniture of Jewish families they knew had been "relocated to the East" free of shared guilt?
I will end on a controversial note. Europe has not enjoyed peace for the last seventy years because of NATO or the EU but because the German people had the militarism beaten out of their racial memory by the combined efforts of Bomber Command/US 8th AF from the West and the Red Army from the East. The reasonableness of disarmament and the League of Nations after WWI manifestly did not work so after Germany sowed the wind again, it reaped the whirlwind and finally learnt its lesson.

Update 13082012 Title amended because of google search.