During the Second World War, Bomber Command of Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF), working in lockstep with the numbered air forces of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), played a vital role in bringing about the ruination and collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich. However, in the words of the distinguished British historian Richard Overy:
Few campaigns have generated more heated argument than the bombing of Germany by the Allies between 1940 and 1945. A great many distortions and illusions litter the popular view of the part RAF Bomber Command played in that campaign. Not the least of these is the view that all Bomber Command ever did was hammer away at German cities regardless of morality or military good sense. Bomber Command did a great deal more than this, and in the process contributed in a variety of ways to the Allied war effort. (Richard Overy, Bomber Command 1939-1945 (London: HarperCollins, 1997), p.11.)
In point of fact, the Allied bombing of the Third Reich and its allies was an integral part of Britain’s overall war strategy to take the offensive to the enemy, and to do so as expeditiously as possible. It created a second front that bled off vital resources from the German campaign in the east, including massive amounts of manpower and materiel diverted from the primary German war efforts just to address the threat and the damage it created. The bombing campaign dealt telling blows to Germany’s economic and industrial infrastructure, forcing a costly and time consuming decentralization of its war industries. And ultimately, it helped pave the way, through destruction of enemy air defences, oil resources, and transportation networks, for a successful invasion of Germany through
northwest Europe in 1944.
First, a brief note on the ranks of the participants mentioned herein. With the exception of some very distinguished principals, the use of ranks has generally either been avoided or they have been recorded as the highest wartime rank attained by an individual. This is due in no small measure to the fact that many of the participants went on to achieve very high rank subsequent to the events chronicled in this book, and thus fall beyond the scope of my mandate.
With respect to sources, extensive use has been made of both primary and secondary material. While there is no formal bibliography, bibliographical data is fully recorded in the extensive endnotes, which are an integral part of each individual chapter. Chapter One of this three-part study will chart the evolution and refinement of British bombing policy during the Second World War, from its first tentative
steps at the commencement of hostilities, to the realization of its most destructive, yet productive apex during the last calendar year of the war, operating as it then did synergistically with the numbered air forces of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) over Europe. Emphasis will be placed upon the relatively little known and frequently misunderstood formative early years of Britain’s bomber offensive. Chapter Two will address the human element of the campaign, for this massive, arduous undertaking became a true triumph of the human spirit and a display of sustained courage, prosecuted at times in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. Chapter Three will chronicle the myriad direct and indirect contributions of the bombing campaign to ultimate victory in Europe, and its impact upon the Pacific war against the Japanese Empire. In the process, the book will attempt to provide balance and perspective to the criticisms that have been levied against the bomber offensive and its perpetrators over the years, and, hopefully, put paid to some of the more strident, irrational, and ill-founded objections and misconceptions, particularly those that apply to the evolution and development of Britain’s wartime bombing policy.