The effectiveness of Bomber Command in the Second World War, was the price worth the results?

This is an interesting thread for the historians amongst the ACC collective, started on Sunday on Very many informed comments and debates. Now 21 pages.

Well worth a read.


This is very interesting, as I am currently reading a book called Cinderella Boys, which is about the struggles of Coastal Command in the war, and one of their constant battles was getting aircraft types from bomber command.

Well worth a read.

This has been debated many times over the years but if you haven’t already done so, you should read Bomber Offensive, The Devastation of Europe by Noble Frankland. It has to the starting point for understanding the history of the air offensive against Germany. A shorter summary may be found in the RAF Historical Society Journal Issue 6. After that there is a plethora of books and papers that seek to dissect and re-examine the bomber offensive with hindsight or from a different perspective. Some are useful and thought provoking, others are rubbish.

The campaign can ony be evaluated in context and with reference to what was known at the time. The public desire to “give them some back”, the limited options available to do so and the enormous investment made to achieve it. In short , it seemed the best policy at the time. Harris was given the task of delivering it and proceeded to do so, fighting off those whom he perceived as trying to interfere. He was probably correct to do so as any loss of assets would make the achievement of his objectives more difficult and anyway, would the assets he lost be applied as intended of frittered away on distractions?

The bomber offensive has been exhaustively analysed in the intervening years and quite rightly so. However analysis to properly understand and evaluate its effectiveness; or otherwise is one thing; but to attempt to rewrite its history to fit a later ideology is another and less valid objective.



This is very interesting, as I am currently reading a book called Cinderella Boys, which is about the struggles of Coastal Command in the war, and kne of their constant battles was getting aircraft types from bomber command.

Well worth a read.

Leo McKinistry’s Cinderalla Boys is well laid out and not difficult to read. Unfortunately it relies almost entirely upon historical records and memories, the participants having long since departed the datum. For something with a bit more immediacy and closeness I would recommend either:

Ensor’s Endeavour by Victor Orange
Arctic Airmen by Schofield and Nesbit

What is apparent from Cindarella Boys is the enormous task of building and directing Coastal Command. Many units spread around isolated and remote locations. C-in-C Bomber could almost have visited all his units by road in 24 hours, something that it might have taken C-in-C Coastal a week to achieve!

One wonders whether it was not only resources that were in short supply in Coastal but quality of senior leadership also? C-in-C Coastal was a highly demanding and taxing appointment, but not necessarily a sought after one. One could wonder “what if” Harris had become C-inC Coastal, would outcomes have been better or worse? I have no doubt they would have been different.

Finally a recommendation for further reading for those who wish to delve more deeply:

British Naval Intelligence Through The 20th Century by Andrew Boyd

It is very “Navy”, that much should be clear from the title. However if you wish to understand the interraction of forces in the maritime sphere and the part played by intelligence in it, this is essential reading.



Had the Great War carried on into 1919, the Royal Air Force would have carried out strategic bombing of cities and industrial areas in the German homeland, using its large, multi-man crewed heavy bombers. As we know, after the post-Armistice reductions of the armed forces, such bombing didn’t start again until the Spanish Civil War and Japan’s invasion of China in the 1930s.
So WWII pretty much started where the previous one (almost) left off, with unrestrained bombing (by accident or design) of the civilian population: whereas in WWI most casualties were soldiers, in WWII most casualties were civilians. At the time, strategic bombing was one of several methods used to defeat an enemy, because of its highly destructive effect, and the casualty rates amongst aircrew, equivalent to infantry soldiers, was the human cost which obviously had to be paid.
The Germans had no strategic bomber fleet to compare to the western Allies, so developed the strategic weapons of WWIII - UCAVs, cruise missiles and ballistic rockets, rendering manned bombers which had to fly over targets defended by good AA defences obsolescent.
Therefore, arguing over whether the Bomber Command offensive of WWII was effective or not is pointless in hindsight: had Britain and the USA developed similar weapons to the German V-weapons, we would have manufactured tens of thousands of them, and brought about the same result - the destruction of German cities and industry - with much less loss of life.
After all, the USA and Soviet Union could only develop their ballistic missiles post-WWII by employing German scientists: neither country did so whilst they were fighting the war, for various reasons. The Russians didn’t need strategic bombers - the RAF and USAAF did that job for them, and the Western Allies either didn’t have the scientific capability, or used the resources they had in abundance - men, aircrew training schools, bombs and aircraft. That’s the question we should be discussing - what were the reasons for no allied WWII missile development programme? :thinking:

Simple, didn’t need one.

Same reason that the western allies didn’t feel the need to rush the heavy tanks (which became MTB’s into service) or to push the Jets in. From 1943 the allies had won the war, they just needed to make Germany see that reality.

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The allies didn’t know they had won the war in 1943: the Axis still occupied a vast part of Eurasia, and the counter-offensives in Burma and the Pacific had barely got going. One could also argue that the Cold War started before WWII ended: the Soviet Union’s aim was to create a bloc of Communist countries as far into Europe as possible, and the Western Allies had to get as far east as possible. Until 1941 (and post-WWII of course), Soviet-backed Communism was just as much a threat to Western Democracy as Fascism was - just ask the Poles, the people of the Baltic countries and the Finns if you don’t believe me. That’s why they joined the EU and NATO when it was either a free option or not. Indeed, Finland was the only democracy to fight on the Axis side in WWII, during their Continuation War of 1941-44.
Getting back on topic, your comment suggests that Nazi Germany valued the lives of their air- and tank- crews more than the allies did, by developing equipment which either protects the crew more (the well-armoured and heavily-armed Tiger I and II MBTs) or doesn’t expose the operators to danger (UCAVs, missiles etc).

That goes back to the interwar works of Goddard in America and the German rockets Society in which von Braun was involved, soon to be taken over by the Wehrmacht and controlled by Dornberger. Later in the war Himmler and the SS tried to take over the rocket programme to be run by Kammler. The German problem was they lacked resources such as metals and fuels and the last a number of scientists during the Peenemunde raids from 1943 onwards, so much so, they moved testing to Heidelagar in Poland to undertake testing away from the RAF/USAAC PR coverage.

The British didn’t work on rocketry in particular the V2 type was down to the innate conservatism of the British scientific community. Lindeman during Op Crossboq rubbished the PR pictures of the V2 as he was still thinking of gunpowder that than liquid fuels.

I would argue that they did know, they just needed to make the Germans see.

In a very short period in 1943 you had Hamburg, Chastise, the end of Stalingrad and the surrender of German Forces in North Africa (so a city utterly destroyed, the water lost in all 3 dams and 2 armies surrendered) . If that doesn’t show the writings on the wall I’m not sure what does.

I would say that what it actually shows was that we’re desperate and throwing resources into poorly built or ineffective wonder weapons to try and turn back the course of the war.

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The Tiger and Panther tanks were effective weapons against both the Soviet and Western Allied armies: the former had equivalent medium and heavy tanks, but the latter countries’ fielded the Pershing and Centurion tanks only in the closing days of WWII (both outclassing T34/85s in Korea, and the later upgunned Centurions even matching the M48 whilst both were in IDF service, and beating the T55 and T62 in the 1973 war).
The RAF’s own AP ‘UAVs - a New Perspective,’ written in 2009, gives a good analysis of the use of German WWII UCAV and V-weapons, the latter being a major element of their aerial bombardment campaign against allied targets in both SE England and NW Europe. Had they developed more accurate guidance and targeting systems, those weapons would have been a lot more devastating, particularly if armed with a nuclear warhead, which thankfully they didn’t have the resources for either. The RAF certainly took both these real and potential threats seriously, as they were the only means the Germans had of striking back from the air in the face of allied air supremacy. Some German weapon developments might have been a waste of resources, but they wouldn’t have known that at the time: the British had quite a few failed projects as well. It’s like in business, knowing one wastes half of the money spent on advertising, but not which half.
Nazi Germany would never have surrendered in 1943, let alone sign another Armistice and withdrawn from all occupied territories, anymore than Putin would do the same if an armistice was declared in the current war the UK is involved in. Such total wars end only with the complete destruction of the fighting forces of one side, and the occupation of their country…like Iraq between 1990 and 2003. Saddam’s regime wasn’t over until we got him on the right end of the rope, and a major part of his downfall was the use of Coalition air power throughout the entire period.
But people will still argue about the effectiveness of it on forums in several decades’ time, of course. :thinking: