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  #1  
Old 15th April 2019, 15:58
rof120 rof120 is offline
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The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

To everybody who is interested in the air war over France in May-June 1940 (May 10 through June 24) with total aircraft losses of about 4,200 for all countries and even during the “Phoney War” (September 3rd, 1939, through May 9, 1940) in which RAF aircraft shot down about 70 German planes (and, sadly, conversely), the loss or destruction of most RAF squadron ORBs is a very sad and irritating element of History.

I am under the impression that only, or mainly, RAF fighter sqns, not bomber squadrons (Battles or Blenheims), destroyed or lost their ORBs in the chaos and panic of June 1940. Is this assumption correct?

The next mystery (to me) is this: WHY the hell did they destroy their ORBs? The stated reason was that they wanted to prevent that these documents fell into German hands. Certainly it was a secret, before flying missions, where, when and with how many AC missions were about to be flown, but afterwards this was certainly of no interest to the enemy, who was victory drunk, convinced that Germany had just won WW II and that the war was over, or would be in the next days or weeks. What could be secret, after the end of operations, in RAF ORBs? Or was it possibly a purely moral and psychological matter: unit members refused to imagine that German soldiers could “lay their rude hands” on these internal documents so they preferred to destroy them. To German intelligence knowing what aircrew had taken part in what missions and air battles was not really exciting.

And why did RAF personel not take their ORBs along with themselves? Almost all of them kept their steel helmets, many kept their rifles, and these ORBs would not have made a great difference in weight or in bulk and clutter. I imagine that these records were about as large and as heavy as the books used by all firms for bookkeeping.

The most obvious solution would have been to fly them back to England in a “Hurricane” (I guess about 100 “Hurricanes” were flown back to Britain) or in any other aircraft. This would not have altered the aircraft’s weight and there was enough room, for example behind the pilot’s seat (improvement of back armour).

What do you say ? I am still unable to imagine a valid reason for this destruction.
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Old 15th April 2019, 16:22
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Chris Goss Chris Goss is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

Surely with most of the bomber sqns destroyed or withdrawn, fighter paperwork probably the furthest thing on their minds. Self-presevation would have been paramount. I remember speaking with a number of pilots whose logbooks were 'left in France'.
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Old 15th April 2019, 19:09
Tim O. Tim O. is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

I have the surviving logbook of a Battle Air Gunner and some of his Squadron literally flew back in aircraft that had been designated as not airworthy. I think Chris is correct. Getting the people out was challenging enough without worrying about paperwork. Several aircraft came back with ground crew stowed on board. They were pretty desperate times. ‘My’ man also lost his original logbook in France.

Do not forget that ORBs also tend to mention losses, which would have been sensitive information at that time.
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Looking for any information or documents relating to:
Alfred Schmittka 5./KG 54; Josef Harmeling 4.(Schlacht)/LG 2; Wilhelm Gaul 1./106, 2./906 & III./KG 40; Karl Müller I./KG 2; Werner Breese 5.(F)/122
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Old 15th April 2019, 21:21
Smithy Smithy is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

Chris and Tim, are entirely correct.

People almost cannot imagine just how much of a flap was on when France was falling. In many instances towards the end squadrons - or what was left of them - were told to evacuate immediately because advancing German forces were mere minutes away. Not as soon as possible but immediately. In such circumstances it's hardly surprising that paperwork and admin bumf was forgotten, mislaid, had a match tossed at it in the mad panic to just get on any kind of transport and leave.

It's sad for us today but you certainly can't blame the poor fellows for losing or destroying paperwork under those kind of conditions.

Tim
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Old 15th April 2019, 21:52
Graham Boak Graham Boak is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

It is also quite likely that the paperwork was placed on a lorry which simply didn't make it back to England. It could have been burnt deliberately, engulfed in the flames from a strafing or dive-bombing attack, soaked in water if the lorry was used as part of an improvised pier, or just abandoned and destroyed as part of the rubbish dumps by the victors, or by those made to clear up the mess.

However, depending upon the thoroughness of the ORBs, I think the original poster is underestimating the value of these to German intelligence. Information on the aircraft serials, the names and ranks of the pilots, the confirmed losses, are all grist to the intelligence mill.
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Old 16th April 2019, 15:28
rof120 rof120 is offline
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Yes but...

Thanks for these replies. I think you're right all of you. Nevertheless I have read a number of British books on this period and very often the ORBs (and possibly other paperwork) did make it to harbours in Northern and possibly Western France, like Boulogne, Fécamp, Le Havre, Brest and many others. There British soldiers (RAF guys I guess) often dumped the ORBs into the water of the harbour (this is a typical example) when it was neither necessary nor urgent. They could have taken them along back to England just as they kept rifles and even Bren guns. Perhaps they were just exhausted, nervous, exasperated, and felt like getting rid of everything which was not vital.
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Old 16th April 2019, 16:01
Allan125 Allan125 is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

"What do you say ? I am still unable to imagine a valid reason for this destruction."

You have only to watch an early part of the 1958 film Dunkirk when the group reach some of their B echelon, only to have them strafed and destroyed in front of them - and the original newsreel when they reach the Dunkirk perimeter, in an RAF lorry, to see the obvious destruction of vehicles awaiting them.

Who knows what documents reached what seemed like the relative safety of the Lancastria, and the RAF loss of life alone was terrible, without worrying about some missing paperwork!

Same thing happened in Greece and Crete with regard to logbooks and ORB's - that's why the score for "Pat" Pattle is only estimated from speaking to squadron survivors back in Egypt, giving JEJ the official highest score.

I have a handwritten copy of the ORB for 453 Squadron RAAF recreated later in Australia by the survivors for the same reason after the Malaya/Singapore/Java debacle - so, yes, I can imagine a valid reason for this destruction in all instances.

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Last edited by Allan125; 16th April 2019 at 17:23. Reason: updating
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Old 16th April 2019, 17:23
Adriano Baumgartner Adriano Baumgartner is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

I do agree with the other members of this Fórum that "probably" on the heat of Battle, they "had" to destroy them.

The sole two times that I managed to talk with former Major Martin Drewes (III/NJG 1), back in 1996, he told me that he ordered the Adjutant of his Gruppe to dig the Squadron War Diaries on a box. So, they are somewhere (if not destroyed by now), buried in Germany. The order was to the originals not being found by the "victors". I heard that information from him, who gave that order verbally. All claims, losses, etc..were documented there.

If scanners and digital images had been available at that time, this would have made our happiness nowadays...I can not imagine back-ups being made for those documents (ORB or Logbooks). So a sad loss for History and Air Forces...

A.
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Old 16th April 2019, 18:19
Laurent Rizzotti Laurent Rizzotti is offline
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

The other reason that ORB were not saved was that they were probably the least useful paperwork for the squadron's life. Pilot logbooks, payrolls, aircraft files, orders and instruction sheets were all more important to the everyday operational and non-operational activity than the ORB, that is useful only for us airwar historians.

I remember reading an ORB where the writer has written something like "I wonder if somebody will ever read this. If this is the case, thanks to you."

Also the content of the ORB tend to improve during the war, both in quality and quantity. Some of the 1939-1940 ORBs, even the ones of squadrons that remained in UK and so were not lost and recreated by memory, seem to record personal changes and officer visits and pay little interest to flying activities, even sometimes not reporting a fatal crash ! I'm quite sure that at this stage of the war, writing the ORB was the last thing the admin personal was doing during a workday, and it certainly was neglected during a hasty retreat like in France, Greece and so on.
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Old 16th April 2019, 18:29
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Re: The destroyed or lost ORBs of RAF units in France 1940

The ORB was only as good as the writer-look at Lympne for the Battle of Britain. Having been a F540 compiler, I know what it can be like. At RAF Akrotiri, the chap who was meant to do it when I was there did nothing for 10 months.................
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