Hastings’ conclusion on Bomber Command’s leadership

“Bomber Command was very well served by its aircrew, and with a few exceptions very badly served by its senior officers, in the Second World War. The gulf between the realities in the sky and the rural routine of headquarters was too great for most of the staff to bridge….High Wycombe was fatally isolated from both the front and from sharp critical debate on policy. Even after all their bitter experience in the early years of the war, senior officers were unwilling to face unacceptable realities” (457).

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2 responses to “Hastings’ conclusion on Bomber Command’s leadership

  • Amy Scott

    This gap between those that do the dirty work of war, and those that make the commands to do so has preoccupied a good many writers. The book that comes to my mind is “Generals Die in Bed” by Charles Yale Harrison. It has been years since I read it, but I can still recall its strong indictment of the commanding class and their failure to understand the realities of fighting in the trenches of World War 1, their often deliberate misrepresentation of those realities in order to justify the terror and destruction that the telegram on Dresden mentioned. I’ve just had to do a google search to remind myself that the book is based on Harrison’s own experience.

    Of course, Tolstoy has a great deal to say about this gap too.

    This is an excerpt from “Generals Die in Bed” as the narrator and his fellow soldiers are inspected by a General:

    “The general lifts a tired hand to the visor of his gold-braided cap. Behind him stands a group of young aides. They languidly survey us as we stand at the salute. The general starts to walk down the ranks. He is followed by his staff. We are standing as rigid as though ramrods were shoved up our spines. We are motionless. A louse comes to life in one of my armpits. The itch is unbearable. I want to drop my rifle and scratch. I try not to think of it, but the biting of the beast is an inescapable fact. Mind over matter does not work here. To move would mean the orderly room and a few days’ loss of pay. I stand still. The inspection takes but a few minutes. The general gets into his car and drives off. We are marched back to our billets. On the way back we talk:
    “…a little runt, ain’t he?”
    “Got a cushy job, too”
    “Bet he’s got a hundred batmen to shine his leather.”
    “He’s got fifty medals…”
    “Yeah, but he’ll never die in a lousy trench like Brownie and them did.”
    “God, no. Generals die in bed.”
    “Well, that’s a pretty good place to die.”
    Anderson speaks up:
    “Where would we be without generals-”
    “Yeah – where?”
    Clark shouts an order:
    “March at ease!”
    That means we may sing:

    Oh the generals have a bloody good time
    Fifty miles behind the line.
    Hincky, dincky, parley voo”

    (Harrison, Generals Die in Bed, Waterdown, Ontario, Potlatch Publications, 1999, pp. 141-2)

    And finally, near the end of the book, this statement:

    ” ‘There’s two kinds of people in this world — there’s those that like wars and those that fight ’em, pal” (pg 218).

  • Angels 14

    Hastings records that a Commanding Officer who flew the most dangerous trips himself contributed immensely to morale- some officers were derisively christened ‘Francois’ for their habit of picking the easy French targets when they flew.

    It also makes me think back to Keith Park, who has been so warmly recorded in history. He made sure that he remained an active pilot- keeping his skills fresh and his flying hours up to scratch. He had his own Hurricane and would fly himself to the various bases to rally morale (at risk to his own life as he took to the danger of the skies).

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