The cost of the bomber offensive

“We want- that is, the people who served in Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force and their next of kin- a categorical assurance that the work we did was militarily and strategically justified.”

-Wing-Commander Ernest Millington MP, House of Commons, 1946

Having taken a long look at Bomber Command over the last few weeks, I think the time has come to start shifting our focus. There are two pieces of work to be done before I start adding the specific details from the log book: further consideration of memoirs and memory (all the work we have looked at thus far has been written by historians; I’d like to look at some first-hand accounts- one written during the war and one written long after it).  I also need to build a better understanding of the situation in North Africa, working from the ground up.

But, before we depart from the topic of Bomber Command, I’d like to collect and post a few final thoughts on the balance sheet and why it remains such a difficult topic even today.

Here is Hasting’s summation:

“After the War, beneath a thin layer of perfunctory good will, it was soon apparent that…in the safety of peace the bombers’ part in the war was one that many politicians and civilians would prefer to forget. The laurels and romantic adulation were reserved for Fighter Command, the defenders. The men of the Army Occupation were first awed, then increasingly dismayed, by the devastation of Germany (451).”

“The bomber offensive partly fulfilled useful purposes for the Allied war effort. Bomber Command entirely satisfied Churchill’s hopes…by fighting a long-holding action to buy time before launching Overlord on overwhelmingly favourable terms. If the airmen had pitched their demands for resources, their own hopes and their subsequent claims more modestly, history might have judged them more kindly. As it was, the cost of the bomber offensive in life, treasure and moral superiority over the enemy tragically outstripped the results that it achieved (458).”

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One response to “The cost of the bomber offensive

  • Adrian McMenamin

    I think this under-estimates the importance of the mission of Bomber Command. It wasn’t just a holding action – as Adam Tooze says in “Wages of Destruction”, the RAF’s victory in Battle of the Ruhr stopped Speer’s “Miracle” in its tracks – that alone saved tens of thousand, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people’s lives, particularly on the Eastern front.
    Perhaps a lot of BC’s sorties were tactically or strategically mistaken – such as the attempt to destroy Berlin to shorten the war, but I don’t see how that makes them morally mistaken. The besieged may end their travail at any time by surrendering and against an enemy who started a war of aggression on *every* front it fought, the RAF’s victories saved countless lives.

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