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Old 16th November 2010, 23:31
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

I have just been reading online "Britain 1939-1945; The Economic Cost of Strategic Bombing", by John Fahey at http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/664

This remarkable and original thesis of over 450 pages presents detailed evidence that BC cost the British taxpayer the enormous sum of £2.803 billion (£2,803,942,474) to £3.5 billion - out of a total defence expenditure of £23.1 billion and total government expenditure of £28.7 billion.

Britain was bankrupted by the war. Its wealth declined by £7 billion while its external liabilities increased by £2.9 billion - by coincidence the exact cost of BC. Britain ended the war as a client of the USA.

The 7,377 Lancasters that were built cost £477 million. It is interesting to me that the 7,368 Churchill tanks that were built cost by comparison only £82 million. Switching the money spent on Lancasters to Churchills would have given the Army 43,000 of them. This would have enhanced the chance of ending the war in 1944.

Another major point made by Fahey is that 30 to 40% of the bombs dropped by BC failed to explode because of faulty fuses, and were wasted. To this waste can be added those that were dropped on the open countryside. Therefore well over half of the £2.8 to £3.5 billion spent on BC was wasted, including half the 73,471 BC casualties, enough manpower to form three armoured divisions.

Does anyone know of any comment on, or critical review of, Fahey's work and conclusions?

Tony
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Old 17th November 2010, 00:48
RodM RodM is offline
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Hi Tony,

Thank you for bringing this thought-provoking and stimulating paper to the board’s attention.

Of immediate interest to me was the figure of '30-40%' of unexploded bombs, which you have so readily pounced upon.

Upon reading parts of the thesis, the following comments were made by its author:

"Of the 11 fuzes most commonly used by Bomber Command, nine were ineffective, dangerous or unreliable. This suggests the failure rate of British bombs was much higher than the 15 percent suggested for one type of fuze by Harris and it may be that up to 30 percent of all British bombs failed to operate correctly because of bad fuzes."

I would like to point out that the author is extrapolating a percentage that may well be unquantifiable, and he fails to take into account that of the 11 fuses mentioned, at least two were not used in bombs at all, but on target markers and photoflashes.

The author goes on to further state:

"The likelihood is that somewhere around 30-40 percent of all of ordnance did not function effectively; that is they failed to explode at the right time. If this is so, it is reasonable to suggest that faults, particularly defective fuses, made useless somewhere between £43.7 million and £58.2 million worth of ordnance."

So now the figure has been nudged another 10% higher, and I would maintain that the author is speculating.

Firstly, the USSBS produced figures based upon German analysis of bombs dropped on 14 oil plans and refineries (reproduced on page 519 of, "The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany 1939-1945, Volume IV", by Webster/Frankland), and off the top of my head these are the only figures I recall seeing on unexploded ordinance. In this table, a figure of 18.9% of all bombs identified as dropped by the RAF is stated to have not exploded after hitting the target. The figure may be higher because of the percentage of unidentified unexploded bombs, but I doubt that all of the unidentified bombs would have been solely RAF, and I doubt that the figure would be double that given by the Germans.

Secondly, the percentage of unexploded ordinance would have probably varied during different phases of the bombing campaign, and unless comprehensive German analysis is preserved, the actual percentage is, IMHO, unquantifiable and subject to speculation.

Thirdly, I didn't notice anything within the thesis to fully explain the reason for defective ordinance other than design and handling faults; in other words, what percentage of ordinance may have been defective because of a lack of quality control during manufacturing?

Cheers

Rod
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Old 17th November 2010, 09:23
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Hi,
This can easily turn into one of these "what if threads", but please allow me a few comments. Without total air supremacy over the beachhead on 6 June 1944 those 43,000 tanks would never have come ashore. RAF BC contributed to the attainment of that.
The V-1 sites were being constructed from the end of 1943 and would have been ready to fire before the invasion - against the ports in Southern England, had it not been for the effort of BC.
bregds
SES
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Old 17th November 2010, 13:48
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Rod.
I agree the percentage of faulty ordnance will never be known.
But it's clear the problems existed throughout the war.
Harris knew the problem was serious, and called those responsible 'incompetent'.
According to Harris, the problem with the common No. 30 Pistol that was, he said, used in all medium calibre HE bombs throughout the war, were recognised only when BC started daylight bombing in the autumn of 1944. Crews now saw bombs exploding as they left neighbouring aircraft. No fix to this problem was found before the war ended. How many aircraft were in fact destroyed by premature bomb explosion rather than by the official explanation of Flak?

(And, by the way, why did BC never re-engineer the Lancaster to make it easy to bale out of compared with the Halifax? I found that statement by Fahey disturbing, and wonder how it could be true. I know the reason the crews called him "Butcher" Harris was because he butchered them).

That there was something very wrong with BC's bombs was clear from the first attack on September 4, 1939 when bombs were dropped by Blenheims on the Admiral Scheer in the Schillig Roads off Wilhelmshaven and failed to explode. Contrast that with the bombs dropped by two Russian SB-2s (an aircraft equivalent to the Blenheim) off Ibiza in May 29, 1937 that hit Scheer's sister ship Deutschland, killing 23 and wounding 83 members of crew.

Fahey suggests the ordnance problems in BC were endemic not just through poor design but also because;
- no one in BC coordinated the design and manufacture of the equipment needed to move and lift the bombs into the aircraft. So the stations created their own jury rigs that stressed and damaged the bombs
- HE Bombs were rolled along the ground, picking up mud
- the trolleys pulled by tractors also threw mud from the wheels onto the bombs and containers and into the fuses
- the AAEE, who were responsible for testing, were denied unrestricted range time by BC which monopolised the ranges for training
- there was no systematic evaluation of bomb types and therefore no way of identifying and correcting problems. I suppose this was because BC, like the whole RAF, was run by pilots who looked with scorn on civilian scientists. Manufacturing mistakes would have been picked up during this extensive testing that never happened.

By the way, the RAF was told by Zuckerman in his study of the total effects of air raids on Hull and Birmingham dated April 8, 1942, that heavy bombing did not break down civilian morale, and neither did it destroy productive capacity since; "The direct loss of production in Birmingham was about 5% and the loss of productive potential was very small."
The RAF dissed Zuckerman's report, and Lindemann misrepresented it to Churchill.

The evidence seems to be in that the strategic bombing campaign by BC was almost certainly worse than a crime, it was a futile mistake that ended up bankrupting Britain. The ultimate responsibility for that, of course, lay squarely with Churchill.

Fahey is, then, truly the first to quantify the total cost of BC's campaign.
That fact is significant given the great amount of work done on this subject.

Tony
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Old 17th November 2010, 13:55
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Ses; no one I know suggests there should have been no BC.
The suggestion is that BC should have been a tactical rather than a strategic force.
V1s used tactically against the embarcation ports would naturally have been their responsibility.

Tony
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Old 17th November 2010, 14:42
Andrei Demjanko Andrei Demjanko is offline
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tcolvin View Post
The evidence seems to be in that the strategic bombing campaign by BC was almost certainly worse than a crime, it was a futile mistake that ended up bankrupting Britain.
I can't agree with this statement. BC did tremendous damage on Germany and surely was one of the greatest assets which Britain had at disposal to win the war. Casualties of the crews were undoubtedly heavy, but in just three BC raids (Hamburg, Dresden, Pforzheim) were killed more people, then the BC lost during the WWII including training losses. (Of course, it's not totally correct to compare aircrews and mostly civilian casualties and their impact on the war effort, but this figures helped to understand the scale of the campaign). The sacrifice of BC aircrews also helped to reduce Army casualties by direct support and by damaging German industry, which produced arms and equipment, helped the RN to win Battle for the Atlantic by forcing German capital ships to abandon bases in France and bombing of U-Boat bases, it also helped to save many civilians in Britain (Penemunde and campaign with USAAF against NOBALL targets). The great part of Germany's war effort was spent in attempt to counter BC campaign by exapntion of Nachtjagd, radars, flak, building of permanent shelters etc, and also required a great number of people to counter the threat, thereby reducing German potential on the other fronts.

In other words, BC was expensive for Britain, and in human lives too, but it caused far more damage and casualties to the enemy then it absorbed itself and if the Britain would not have the BC, the cost of victory would be undoubtedly much higher
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Old 17th November 2010, 15:29
RodM RodM is offline
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Hi Tony,

you seem to imply that BC was the only user of bombs and fuses, while forgetting that the RAF in Europe and other theatres were using the same ordinance.

That there was a percentage of faulty ordinance is undisputed, and that a percentage of this faulty ordinance caused the loss of aircraft and crews is also undisputed, but it was not solely a problem in BC.

I find it interesting that you are prepared to take Harris' word as gospel for some facets of the bombing war and not others.

My own belief is that the role of BC was indespensible, but that Harris (and to a very much lesser degree the USAAF also in 1945) devoted too much effort to area bombing of cities in the last seven months of the war, when the means for greater precision were available.

As to the years 1939-43, that was the cost of waging war. I don't see anyone suggesting that the British army should have been completely dispanded and the available resources put in to the RAF because of Dunkirk, Greece, and Crete...

Cheers

Rod
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Old 17th November 2010, 18:48
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tcolvin View Post
Ses; no one I know suggests there should have been no BC.
The suggestion is that BC should have been a tactical rather than a strategic force.
V1s used tactically against the embarcation ports would naturally have been their responsibility.

Tony
Hi Tony,
Engagements and battles are won through attacks on targets with a tactical importance if the right effect is inflicted.
Wars are won by succesful attacks on targets of strategic importance.
bregds
SES
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Old 17th November 2010, 21:23
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Ses, you've lost me.

The RAF's doctrine, developed in the 1920s, was based on the proposition that the objective of all three Services was the same - to defeat the enemy nation, and not merely its Army, Navy or Air Force.
But, said the RAF, the Army in order to defeat the enemy nation, had first to defeat the enemy's army, while the RAF was different.
The RAF could defeat the enemy nation without defeating its armed forces first. It did so by destroying the enemy's warlike resources and the morale (will to resist) of its citizens.
Trenchard and the others foresaw opposing bomber fleets passing each other in mid-Channel on their way to bomb their opposing factories.
(In the 1920s the supposed enemy of the RAF was France).
The country with the stronger bomber fleet would win the war because its opponent with the weaker bomber fleet would be the first to cry uncle at the destruction of its warlike resources. It would be forced to withdraw its aircraft from attack and place them in defense against enemy bombers.
That's why the RAF built up its bomber fleet and was unhappy at releasing resources to Fighter Command. BC stationed its Fairey Battles in France in an AASF within striking distance of the Ruhr in order to dissuade the LW from attacking Britain's industry.

As for your "targets of strategic importance", consider this;
Britain won against Napoleon by defeating his army in the field and occupying Paris.
Britain won WWI by defeating the German Army in the field. President Wilson's Fourteen Points were supposed to compensate for occupying Berlin.
Russia won WWII by defeating the German Army in the field and occupying Berlin.
The 'target of strategic importance' is therefore the enemy's army in the field.
Hence my assertion that a tactical BC costing 10% of Harris' BC, together with a much larger and better equipped British Army would have given Britain more bang for its buck, and saved us from bankruptcy (together with other decisions).

The RAF stuck to its Trenchard doctrine; "The aim of the RAF is to break down the enemy's means of resistance by attacks on objectives selected as most likely to achieve this end".
The "means of resistance", however, ceased to be factories because BC couldn't hit them.
BC sold Churchill on the proposition that it would break Germany's means of resistance, and so end the war, by bombing/dehousing German civilians through area bombing; BC could hit cities.
Zuckerman had shown that bombing did not destroy the morale of the citizens of Birmingham, Hull and Coventry who continued to manufacture weapons under the bombs. Germans were no different.

The hypothesis has now been framed by Fahey that BC actually did more harm to Britain than it did to Germany.
As evidence compare the postwar Wirtschaftswunder in Germany and Britain's post war stagnation and fate of becoming the 'sick man of Europe'.

Tony

Last edited by tcolvin; 17th November 2010 at 21:26. Reason: Grammar correction
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Old 17th November 2010, 22:08
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Re: The momentous cost of Bomber Command.

Tony, you say SES has lost you with his statement that War is defeating the enemy strategically, then immediately state exactly that!
Quote:
The RAF's doctrine, developed in the 1920s, was based on the proposition that the objective of all three Services was the same - to defeat the enemy nation, and not merely its Army, Navy or Air Force.
Your contention is that the fuses were faulty, therefore Bomber Command should not have used bombs. What should it have used, then?
You fight the enemy with the best weapons at your disposal.
As Andrei points out, without Bomber Command, Germany would have had her manpower and industrial capability freed to be more effective in all its campaigns.
Germany never freed its bomber force from that of the Army or Navy and never put into service an effective strategic bomber. BC aircraft carried a greater weight of bombs with a smaller crew than the USAAF.
One other aspect regarding "faulty" fuses might be explained by aircraft being damaged and jettisoning bombs unarmed.
Your take on this has been to swallow whole one aspect, being faulty fuses, and throw the baby out with that bathwater.
Why not ask why the RAF didn't simply mass produced thousands more Mosquitoes, only 2 crew, faster and with the same bomb load as a B17!! Mix night fighter variants with the bombers to pick off intruders and the War might have been won in 1944, without the need for all those Churchill tanks!!
Rather than re-engineer the Lanc for better crew escape, a more pertinent question would be the failure to provide heavy bombers with a ventral, not a nose, turret.
I remain convinced that BC was the War winning element, maybe not used as effectively with benefit of hindsight, but in the best way known at the time.
The courage of those young men to take to the skies night after night, contending not only with a determined enemy but also weather, navigation and formation problems is akin to those poor soldiers in WW1 on the Western Front.
Incidentally, faulty fuses were as great, if not greater, issue in WW1 artillery, so perhaps you'd give us an assessment of that?
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