Introduction (continued:) (*scroll down page for links for background, itinerary, costs etc)
RAF Bomber Command was formed in 1936. At the time, it was argued that a strong bomber force provided a deterrent to aggression, as bombing would result in complete and inescapable destruction on both sides. The reality was very different War came despite the threat of the bombers. The Nazi Blitzkrieg in 1940 quickly defeated France, leaving Britain to fight on alone. After the RAF's famous victory in the Battle of Britain (during which Bomber Command played a vital and unheralded role, attacking invasion barges in the channel ports), Britain found itself on the defensive everywhere.
To Winston Churchill, and to most of the British people, only the bombers offered a chance to take the fight to the Nazis. Initially the prospects were bleak. Aircraft like the Whitley and Hampden were not capable of launching raids deep into enemy territory, while tactics were primitive and losses were high. Bomber Command was compelled to switch to inaccurate night bombing in an effort to reduce casualties. It was not until 1942 that Bomber Command gained a real sense of direction, with the advent of the appointment of Air Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. Harris was appointed as commander in chief of Bomber Command in February 1942, with a mandate to begin attacking German industry, much of which was located in large cities.
His objective was to destroy Germany's industrial might and create a collapse in the morale of the civilian workforce, breaking Germany's will to fight on. To understand these intentions, the mood and desperation of the country has to be considered. Times were hard. Victory seemed distant, and chivalric notions of war fighting had been burned away in the fire of the Blitz. U-Boats were roaming the Atlantic, sinking merchant shipping in an effort to starve Britain into submission.
Harris' promise to make the German people "reap the whirlwind" resonated with a desire to strike back at the mighty Nazi war machine, no matter what the cost. The prospects of success were uncertain. Morale among British workers had largely held firm in the teeth of prolonged attacks by the German Air Force. Harris, however, firmly believed that through a combination of improved aircraft like the amazing Lancaster and Halifax bombers, better training and navigational aids, and a ruthless will to press the attack, Bomber Command could knock Germany out of the war.(Of the 7,377 Lancaster bomber aircraft built, 3,736 were lost during the War (50%). (3,249 in action and 487 in ground accidents)
In May 1942, Harris launched his first "thousand bomber raid" against Cologne. The scale of the attacks shocked Germany, but the country continued to fight. Further massed attacks did have a devastating effect on the Nazi war economy. Albert Speer, the German armaments minister, believed that a series of raids like that on Hamburg in August 1943, repeated in quick succession, might well have compelled Germany to surrender. But that did not happen. There were only so many aircraft and so many crews.
Dam Busters. More specialised operations also took place. The famous 'Dam Busters' raid by *617 Squadron headed by VC winner Guy Gibson (*history and Scampton base region included in tour) by of May 1943 shocked the world with its audacity, as 617 Squadron launched a daring raid on the dams surrounding the Ruhr Valley with Barns Wallace's Bouncing Bomb. Other attacks, like that on the battleship Tirpitz the following year, eliminated the German navy's last major surface ship. Raids in 1944 and 1945 against German 'V weapon' launch sites were also a crucial defensive measure, helping to limit attacks from flying bombs and rockets on British cities. All these operations demonstrated the adaptability of Bomber Command crews, taking on precision strikes with great effect. Still, the focus remained on bombing industry.
From November 1943 to March 1944, Harris launched a series of huge raids on Berlin, promising to knock Germany out of the war in the process. Over 1000 aircraft and 7000 aircrew were lost during the unsustainable and often - even today considered a fruitless overall war action known as the 'Battle of Berlin', but Germany was not bowed - and the city struggled on. The allies would have to invade to finally defeat Germany.
Bomber Command did not win the Second World War independently - but the war could not have been won without their efforts nor the American Army Airforce daylight bombing campaign. Their attacks not only flattened large parts of the German industrial war machine - it also forced Germany to divert invaluable men, guns (over 88,000 88mm guns were used as very effective anti-aircraft flak weapons), aircraft and equipment to defend its airspace, effectively opening a second front long before D-Day.
( Text Source: Bomber Command Memorial: Hyde Park: London)