New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. I)
CHAPTER 8 — Early Bomber Offensive
Early Bomber Offensive
DURING the first year of war the pressure of events had kept the British bomber squadrons employed mainly in a defensive role. The campaigns in Norway and France, followed by the German air attacks on Great Britain and the threat of invasion, had diverted the bomber force from its intended task of attacking German productive capacity. But with the defeat of the daylight raids on the British Isles during the summer of 1940, and the consequent decline of the risk of seaborne attack, attention had turned to the possibilities of reprisals and of eventually bringing about the enemy’s collapse by bombing. Royal Air Force Bomber Command, however, was still in the early stages of expansion, and casualties in the early campaigns had been heavy. Consequently during the months following the Battle of Britain many of the men arriving in England under the Empire Training Scheme found themselves posted to the operational training units and then to the squadrons of Bomber Command. Of the New Zealanders who reached Britain during the second year of war over half eventually went to bomber squadrons. Most of them were pilots, and it was partly because of this that New Zealand airmen became so scattered among the squadrons of Bomber Command. In fact, by June 1941, although there was some concentration in No. 3 Wellington Group, there were very few units in which the Dominion was not represented. Among the new arrivals there was also a proportion of navigators, wireless operators and air gunners, together with a few men trained in the Dominion for various ground duties.
They found several of their fellow countrymen in positions of leadership in Bomber Command during 1941. Air Vice-Marshal Coningham continued in command of No. 4 Group until July, when he went to the Middle East to take charge of the Tactical Air Force in the Western Desert. He was succeeded by Air Vice-Marshal Carr, who was to remain as Air Officer Commanding No. 4 Group for the greater part of the war. Group Captain McKee, who had led a Wellington Squadron during the previous year was, after a period in charge of operational training in No. 3 Group, to command the bomber station at Marham, in Norfolk. In March 1941 Group Captain Buckley, ‘the father of No. 75 Squadron’, became station commander at Feltwell, from which base the squadron continued to page 162 operate under Wing Commander Kay. Kay had been with the unit from its formation in 1939 and had been responsible for the early navigational training. He had led No. 75’s first mission over Germany, and subsequently won commendation for his part in a difficult bombing raid during the Battle of France.
Four other squadrons in Bomber Command were led by New Zealanders during 1941. Wing Commander G. T. Jarman, who commanded first a Whitley and then a Halifax squadron in Coningham’s group, had joined the Royal Air Force in 1930 and flown on operations during the early months of the war as a flight commander in No. 77 Squadron. In June 1940 he was appointed to command this squadron and, during the following months, ‘by his steadying example and fine leadership built up a very good unit from a squadron that had suffered severe casualties.’ In 1941 he took command of one of the first squadrons to be equipped with the new four-engined Halifax aircraft and was to lead this unit in one of the most successful daylight attacks of the year against the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, just when this ship was about to break out into the Atlantic. In No. 2 Group, Wing Commander Elworthy was to lead a Blenheim squadron on daylight attacks against ports and shipping along the enemy-occupied coast. Elworthy had been appointed to a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force in 1936, and at the outbreak of war was flying with a Blenheim squadron. In April 1940 he was sent to instruct pilots at a bomber operational unit, where he did most valuable work at a time when trained pilots were urgently needed. He returned to an operational squadron as flight commander in August 1940, taking over the unit three months later. Later in 1941 he was appointed to the operational staff of No. 2 Group, Bomber Command.
1 Group Captain R. L. Kippenberger, CBE; born Prebbleton, Canterbury, 3 Dec 1907; joined RAF1930; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 142 Sqdn, 1941; RAF Station, Feltwell, 1942–43; RAF Station, Swanton Morley, 1943; Group Captain, Operations, HQ No. 2 Bomber Group, 1944; commanded No. 137 Wing, No. 2 Bomber Group, 1944–45.
During this period New Zealanders also served as flight commanders with the bomber squadrons and as instructors in the operational training units, while a small but significant number did valuable work in maintenance and administrative duties and in operational control. By September 1941, 220, nearly one quarter of the men from the Dominion who had served with Bomber Command since the outbreak of war, had lost their lives, while a further fifty had been made prisoners of war. Casualties in Bomber Command during the same period included 7180 aircrew killed or prisoners of war, and the loss of so many highly trained men, many of them with considerable experience in operations, was to have serious effects on the efficiency of the command at this stage of its expansion.
1 In particular, the failure of the Manchester added to the delay in expansion of the bomber force. Four whole squadrons had to re-equip when this aircraft was taken off operations. In itself, the Manchester was a fine aeroplane, but the twin engines with which it was fitted failed to produce the necessary lifting power. However, this fault proved a blessing in disguise. The aircraft was rapidly redesigned, as an emergency measure, to take four engines. It was then renamed the Lancaster and turned out to be the finest and most efficient bomber of the war.
The general policy for the bomber offensive was formulated by the Chiefs of Staff on the basis of the reports and recommendations submitted to them. It was then approved by the War Cabinet, and their decisions were communicated through Air Ministry in directives to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, whose duty it was to implement them and, in consultation with his operational staff, to plan the actual bombing operations. At this stage of the war the chief difficulties involved in this planning were the wide variety of objectives the command was called upon to attack, the limited force available, and the scanty information regarding weather conditions over the Continent. Soon the increasing enemy defences had also to be taken into consideration.
Once the decision to attack a particular target had been made, orders were passed through the groups to the stations, where a pattern of events followed that was soon to become a well-established routine at bomber bases throughout eastern England. Aircraft were detailed and arrangements made for refuelling and ‘bombing up’. Crews were warned and the operations staff began to work out details of the raid, preparing the maps and other material needed by the crews and the information required for briefing. An atmosphere of greater urgency and expectancy enveloped the base as news of an impending operation inevitably spread. Then, a few hours before the aircraft were due to take off, crews would be assembled in the briefing room and given information regarding the target, the enemy defences, and the weather likely to be encountered during their flight. Details of page 165 bombing and signals procedure would follow. The degree of formality at these gatherings varied, but as alert minds worked in quiet concentration on the tasks to be carried out, there was ever present an undercurrent of grim purpose, of uncertainty and adventure, which produced that peculiar and highly sensitive atmosphere known only to those who have experienced it. But the tension usually relaxed as questions were asked and the captains and navigators began to work out the details of their mission. Meanwhile, the ground crews had been working hard to achieve maximum serviceability of the aircraft allotted for the operation. Last-minute snags were rectified and finally their work was done. Bombs had been hoisted, guns loaded and equipment tested. But particularly in these early days, things did not always run smoothly. The target would sometimes be changed, a different bomb load ordered, the whole operation postponed or even cancelled. How- ever, if all went well the aircrews, after a meal and perhaps a short rest, would take over their machines, and the moment towards which all energies had been directed arrived. One by one the engines burst into life; the aircraft, picked out by their navigation lights, began to move in procession to the take-off point. The first one would turn slowly on to the runway, pause to clear its engines, and then, with a roar of propellers in fine pitch, move steadily down the line of lights. She gathered speed; suddenly her lights rose above the ground and she was airborne. The next one started to move and soon all were gone. They climbed towards the east and out over the North Sea.
Night attacks had now become the rule in the assault on Germany. Bitter experience during the early months of the war had taught the necessity of relying on night bombing if losses were to be kept within reasonable bounds. Unescorted bombers had proved no match for the German day fighters and, as yet, the Royal Air Force had not machines suitable for escort duties over Germany since the British aircraft industry had, of necessity, concentrated on the production of fast short-range fighters for home defence. But this resort to night operations had brought problems of navigation and identification, and soon recognition of the virtual hopelessness of precision bombing at night led to the introduction of ‘area bombing’, in which the force available on any one night was given as its objective an industrial town or district rather than a number of widely scattered targets of one or two special types. In October 1940 it was still believed that the destruction of Ger- many’s synthetic oil plants and storage depots would have an immediate effect on her war potential; consequently, during the closing months of that year, New Zealanders flying with the page 166 Wellingtons, Hampdens, and Whitleys found the objectives detailed for attack mainly of this type. But they proved much more difficult targets to locate and identify by night, particularly in the weather prevailing over Germany at this season of the year, and while some of the more highly trained and skilled crews achieved individual successes in low-level attacks, the cumulative effect was negligible. In any case Germany had obtained large stocks of oil from her conquests in Europe and she also had access to Roumanian oil. At the same time the scale of the offensive against oil was limited by the fact that the bomber force was frequently diverted to attack naval and political targets—the German ports, Berlin and Munich. Some of these diversions, however, were productive of unusual results. One raid on Berlin appears to have interrupted a conference between the Russian and German foreign ministers which had to be continued in an air-raid shelter, while on 8 November 1940 fifty bombers reached Munich and upset a Nazi rally in the famous beer cellar where the party had its birth in 1923.
1 Wing Commander H. H. J. Miller, OBE, DFC, AFC; Morrinsville; born Eureka, Auckland, 31 Mar 1914; school teacher; joined RAF Sep 1939; transferred RNZAF Sep 1943; served with Bomber Command, 1940–42; No. 91 Group, 1943–44; CFI No. 24 OTU, 1944–45.
In such cases, where crews had shown dogged determination in reaching their targets, it was often the last lap which proved the most dangerous part of the mission. Crews would be tired, the aircraft possibly damaged, fuel running low and the weather at the home airfield uncertain. One night early in February 1941, 17 of almost a hundred bombers despatched crashed on return to England when fog developed over airfields earlier than had been expected. There were to be other nights during the year when more aircraft and crews were lost through crashing on their return than during the flight over Germany. Narrow escapes from disaster were also frequent. ‘Returning from Bremen,’ reads one pilot’s report, ‘we found visibility less than 500 yards and cloud down to 200 feet. Running out of petrol so force-landed in a rather small field.’ On 20 December 1940 one of a small force of Whitleys detailed to attack Berlin was hit by anti-aircraft fire during its return flight. One engine failed and all movable gear was jettisoned as the captain, Pilot Officer Bridson,2 struggled to maintain height. But just after crossing the English coast the other engine, which had become very overheated, faltered and the Whitley began to lose height rapidly. Bridson promptly ordered his crew to bale out and, when all were clear, followed himself. The aircraft crashed shortly afterwards but all the crew landed safely. Bridson lost his life three months later when his machine crashed into the sea during a training exercise, but a member of his crew who survived the war writes: ‘Bridson did a splendid job in piloting the aircraft several hundred miles on one engine, and only ordered us to bale out when he could no longer control it.’
1 Some idea of the difficulties which crews experienced in these missions over the Alps during the severe winter of 1940 may be gleaned from the detailed account of Miller’s flight given in Appendix II.
Early in March 1941 the emphasis in daylight operations shifted to attacks on shipping in the North Sea and English Channel, which have already been described in the last chapter. At the same time, raids on the ports used by these vessels and other targets on the fringe of enemy territory were continued by the Blenheims. Small formations flew just above the sea and went in low over the coast in order to surprise the enemy gunners. Then, having located the target and unloaded their bombs, they turned sharply and ‘beat it for home’. One of the more spectacular of these raids was that made by twelve Blenheims from No. 105 Squadron against the dock area at Bremen on 4 July. Pilot Officer Buckley1 was captain of one and Sergeant Williams2 navigator in another aircraft of the formation led by their squadron commander, Wing Commander Edwards,3 of Fremantle, Western Australia. There was bright sunshine and little cloud as the Blenheims approached the port. They flew in low through the balloon barrage and under high-tension cables to attack from chimney-top level—one machine actually brought back telephone wires trailing from its tail wheel. Bombs were seen to fall near the docks and on the railway station, and German records state that considerable damage was caused in a factory making parts for aircraft, while a minesweeper under construction in the shipyards received a direct hit. Ships off the coast had reported the approach of the bombers and they were greeted by a hail of anti-aircraft fire. Four were shot down and most of the others seriously damaged. Williams’ machine was hit by three shells and both he and his rear gunner badly wounded. But despite his injuries, he successfully navigated his aircraft back to base where it crash-landed. Edwards won the Victoria Cross for his leadership in this raid.
3 Group Captain H. I. Edwards, VC, DSO, OBE, DFC; RAF; born Fremantle, Western Australia, 1 Aug 1914; joined RAF 1936; commanded No. 105 Sqdn, 1941; CFI, No. 22 OTU, 1941–42; commanded No. 105 Sqdn, 1942–43; RAF Station, Binbrook, 1943–44; RAF Station, Chittagong, ACSEA, 1944–45.
3 Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, Bt., GCB, OBE, AFC, Order of Suvorov (USSR), Legion of Merit (US), Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol), National Order of the Southern Cross (Bra), Distinguished Service Medal (US); Capetown, South Africa; born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 13 Apr 1892; served 1 Rhodesian Regiment, 1914–15; RFC 1915; transferred RAF 1918; permanent commission 1919; AOC Palestine and Transjordan, 1938–39; AOC No. 5 Bomber Group, 1939–40; DCAS, Royal Air Force, 1940–41; Head of British Air Staff, Washington, 1941–42; AOC-in-C, Bomber Command, 1942–45.
Altogether, during the first five months of 1941, the largest total effort directed against any individual area in Germany—900 sorties against Hamburg—was less than that of a single night in 1944. Furthermore, rarely was any degree of concentration achieved in this early area bombing. On many nights, owing to cloud and haze, the towns themselves proved very difficult to locate. At other times crews genuinely believed they had found their target when, in fact, they had bombed miles from it. An examination of night photographs2 taken during June and July revealed that, of those aircraft which reported attacking their objectives in Germany, only one in four got within five miles of it, and when the target was in the smoke-laden Ruhr, only one in ten. There was, unfortunately, a remarkable contrast between the enthusiastic reports received from many crews and the ‘travellers’ tales’ from Germany via Sweden or Switzerland, and, on the other hand, the night photographs of open country or the bleak pictures of lightly damaged towns brought back by the Spitfires on daylight reconnaissance.
1 Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, KCB, DSO, AFC, Croix de Guerre (It), Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol), Order of Orange Nassau (Hol), Legion of Merit (US); RAF (retd); England; born Croydon, London, 30 Sep 1892; joined RNR 1913; seconded RFC 1913; RNAS 1914; RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC-in-C, Bomber Command, 1940–42; AOC-in-C, India, 1942–43; Air C-in-C, SEAC, 1943–44.
2 Night cameras were just being introduced. The photographs were taken automatically by a camera fitted in the belly of the aircraft. A flash bomb was released at the same time as the bombs; it exploded at about 3000 feet and lit up the ground, while at the same time the camera shutter opened long enough to get a good photograph. Ultimately, the night photographs were accepted as the only evidence of where the bombs fell.
Yet it was not the fault of the bomber crews that they failed to achieve the impossible. Equipment and training for night bombing were still in the experimental stage, while the many difficulties which faced the airmen flying over Germany were not yet fully realised. The only aids available to the navigator at this time were his compass, map, sextant and direction-finder loop, together with what he could see of the ground by starlight, moonlight, or the glow of an occasional flare. It was hard enough to get to the target area, but if and when the aircraft got there, the navigator still had the more difficult task of getting a visual fix of the aiming point or of some landmark which he could positively identify and from which he could make a run of a few miles to the target. Already the enemy’s balloon and anti-aircraft defences were forcing the bombers to fly at heights which made identification much harder. Often after contending with unpredicted changes in wind strength and direction, or flying through storms with no possibility of pinpointing their position, a crew would eventually reach the vicinity of the target only to find the whole area covered by thick cloud or haze. It was impossible to check whether their navigation was accurate or not and all that remained was to bomb on estimated time of arrival or to wait hopefully, as many did, for a break in the murk through which it might be possible to catch a glimpse of the ground. Most crews were reluctant to admit failure and bomb the ‘alternative’ target given them at briefing. A further difficulty was the fact that the enemy had already begun to employ various devices to mislead the British crews into wasting their bomb load. The decoys took the form of fires, flares and explosions, together with dummy airfields complete with buildings and flare paths. Later this deception became more elaborate, particularly in the vicinity of Hamburg and Berlin where lakes were covered over and false landmarks built in the surrounding countryside.
We crossed the Dutch coast at about 5000 feet and as the aircraft was gradually losing height, we were prepared for a landing in the sea. However, through the skill of our pilot, we reached the English coast near Yarmouth flying at less than 1000 feet and Raymond then managed to keep our machine airborne for the few minutes needed to reach our base where he made an excellent landing. The following day, representatives of Short Bros. came to inspect the Stirling and on seeing its condition were extremely surprised that the pilot had been able to get it back to England.
In the early months of the war the Germans had relied entirely upon guns and searchlights for defence against night bombing attacks. The night fighter organisation did not come into being until June 1940, when searchlight interception and predicted anti-aircraft fire began to prove less effective than had been anticipated. At first progress was slow, but once the Germans realised the danger, they applied themselves to the task with characteristic energy and thoroughness. Eventually they were to assemble a night fighter force with a widespread and efficient ground organisation that was to present a real threat to the continuance of operations by Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Then the Battle of Germany, as it might well be called, became an ever-recurring cycle of measure and counter measure, of development and counter development in radio and radar instruments and in tactics. One incidental but important result of this battle was the diversion of large numbers of men and aircraft to the night defence of the Reich, thus depriving the German Air Force of its striking power and keeping many potential soldiers on anti-aircraft sites.1
1 In the summer of 1941, when the German Army invaded Russia, it had the support of 2800 aircraft, or nearly 60 per cent of the whole German Air Force. But two years later this had been reduced to less than 20 per cent. Production had been switched to fighter aircraft to defend the Reich against Bomber Command’s attacks, and during 1943 the front-line strength in Germany for this purpose increased by nearly 1000 aircraft; yet at the end of the same year, the German Army in Russia had only 350 fighters along a front of 2000 miles. A similar decline occurred in the Mediterranean theatre.
4 This was the heaviest attack so far delivered against the German capital. Very severe icing was encountered en route and only 73 aircraft claimed to have reached Berlin, which they found covered with thick cloud—21 aircraft failed to return. Thereafter, with one exception, heavy attacks on the city were abandoned until 1943.
‘We paddled all the first day and most of the night but the tide was too strong for us,’ wrote Hamilton. ‘The second day was cold with heavy seas running. We saw some Hurricanes in the distance but they missed us. We rationed our few biscuits, some chocolate and water. The third day the wind and seas grew worse. But suddenly we saw land and were afraid we were going to be swept past so we paddled as best we could and were at last washed in to the rescuers who waded out to us.’
Hamilton returned to operations only to be reported missing over Germany four months later.
Some of the crews who failed to return survived harrowing experiences to become prisoners of war.
‘We were about thirty miles inland from the enemy coast,’ writes the New Zealand navigator of a Stirling bomber which was detailed to attack Hamburg one night in July. ‘Suddenly, without warning we were in a cone of searchlights. Then the guns opened up and caught us with a direct hit, blowing a large hole in the floor and almost cutting the plane in half. One of our engines was on fire and part of the starboard wing had dis- appeared. We flew on towards Hamburg in an attempt to deliver our load, but as we approached the city a night fighter attacked, killing the rear gunner, smashing the wireless set and killing the operator. My navigation table was blown through the side of the machine. We dropped our bombs and prepared to bale out as our Stirling was losing height rapidly…. The plane just missed me as it went spinning down to explode on the ground….
Another New Zealand navigator in a Wellington bomber was rescued from the sea by the Germans, along with two other members of his crew who survived when their damaged aircraft crashed into the sea near Heligoland on the return flight. A westerly wind carried the dinghy with the three chilled and exhausted men back towards Germany. Late the next afternoon they drifted into Sylt harbour, where they were sighted at dusk by a German pilot just finishing a practice flight. They were picked up by an enemy naval launch an hour later.
During September 1941, with the approach of longer hours of darkness, several raids were attempted against targets in northern Italy but the only attack which achieved any degree of success was the first, on the night of 10 September, against Turin. On this occasion 23 of the new four-engined Stirlings and Halifaxes supplemented the effort of 50 Wellingtons. The weather was clear and, although most men suffered from the intense cold of the Alpine crossings, good results were observed. A considerable number of fires were left burning in the target area, one of which was reported to be still visible after some fifteen minutes of the homeward flight.page 178
A fortnight later the force despatched to Genoa had to be recalled owing to deteriorating weather at home bases, and a second attempt against the same target two nights later was attended with little better luck. As the bombers neared the Alps they met thick cloud and electrical storms; several were forced to turn back, but the majority completed the crossing only to find layers of cloud over Genoa itself. There was also considerable ground haze, with the result that many crews were unable to identify the aiming point and had to bomb its estimated position. Attacks on Italy were thereupon suspended as the bomber force now became preoccupied with increasingly heavy losses over Germany and the demand for heavier attacks on the enemy warships at Brest.
1 There was, however, one successful torpedo attack. At dawn on 6 April 1941, a single Coastal Command Beaufort piloted by Flying Officer K. Campbell, of Ayrshire, Scotland, ran the gauntlet of the enemy defences and hit the Gneisenau. The Beaufort was shot down but the German warship was forced to return to the dock she had just left. Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
The raids on Brest were made mainly, although not entirely, by night. During the early months of the year gallant attempts to surprise the enemy defences were made in daylight by small formations of Beauforts and Blenheims of Coastal and Bomber Commands. They faced withering fire from anti-aircraft ships moored in the outer harbour and from batteries clustered round the port. Losses were heavy. On one occasion four out of six Blenheims failed to return. In another attack all three Beauforts despatched were shot down. One of the latter, piloted by Flying Officer Gair,1 crashed near a small village in Brittany. He and his crew were buried by the French in the place d’honneur by the memorial to the First World War, after a special service attended by nearly all the village folk, despite German orders to the contrary.
The heaviest daylight attacks of the year were made towards the end of July, when it appeared that at least one of the German warships was about to put to sea. In fact, the Scharnhorst left Brest on the 22nd and was discovered by reconnaissance the following day in harbour at La Pallice, 250 miles south of Brest. Six Stirlings attacked the same afternoon. Only three returned. Early the next afternoon 15 Halifaxes of Air Vice-Marshal Carr’s group flew to La Pallice and made a determined attack on the battle- cruiser, inflicting such damage that her sortie into the Atlantic was cancelled and she returned to Brest. A German record of this attack states: ‘Five bomb hits were scored. Three of the bombs failed to explode and penetrated right through the ship.’ But in addition to the anti-aircraft defences, the Germans had sent fighters south to protect the Scharnhorst and five of the Halifaxes were shot down. No. 76 Squadron, led by Wing Commander G. T. Jarman, was heavily engaged by Messerschmitts in the vicinity of the target and three of the formation were lost. Jarman’s aircraft itself was badly shot up and limped back with one engine out of action. However, he was able to report the destruction of two enemy fighters by his squadron.
Harassing attacks, mainly by night, were continued against Brest throughout the second half of 1941 but, apart from two heavy raids in September, the average effort was only 15 aircraft in the night attacks and considerably fewer by day. The effectiveness of these attacks was much reduced by the enemy’s use of smoke screens and skilful camouflage of the ships themselves, and at the beginning of December reconnaissance revealed that heavier attacks would be necessary to confine the vessels to port. The need to neutralise these powerful warships became more urgent following the destructive Japanese attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December and the sinking of HM ships Prince of Wales and Repulse off the Malayan Peninsula three days later.
Although we were the first aircraft over Brest, the anti-aircraft guns seemed to concentrate on the machines behind us. We ‘collected’ the odd piece of shrapnel but the nearest thing was one shell which went straight through our starboard aileron and burst above us. We had just dropped our bombs and were turning for home when three Messerschmitts attacked us. However our rear gunner immediately sent one down and the others broke away. We got clear and reached base before the ‘lame ducks’ started arriving.
Only two of the nine aircraft sent by Runciman’s squadron escaped major damage. One bomber which had been badly shot up came in to land with an engine on fire. The pilot made a normal landing, but as his machine touched down the burning engine fell off, bounced in the air and took off a piece of the tail. The port wing, weakened by fire, then broke off and the undercarriage collapsed.
Two New Zealand gunners who had successful engagements were Flight Sergeant Smith2 and Sergeant De Joux.3 Smith’s machine was attacked by several Messerschmitts in turn as it approached the target. He scored hits on one of them as it came in and the pilot was seen to bale out. De Joux’s Stirling was attacked twice while over the target. In the first encounter the automatic mechanism of his guns was put out of action, but by the skilful use of his turret hand-rotation gear and also by operating the releases of his guns by hand, he managed to bring fire to bear on the enemy machine during the second attack and set it or fire. A number of the bombers were damaged by anti-aircraft fire and the fighter attacks, the Stirling in which Flight Sergeant Lewis4 was flying as second pilot being hit several times by anti-aircraft fire, which tore holes in the fuselage and mainplane and put the rear turret out of action. One Halifax was so damaged that it was forced to land in the sea on the way home. A shell had knocked out an engine, causing it to lose speed and drop out of formation. Fighters then destroyed two more of its engines and it could not remain airborne.
For the men of Bomber Command the year 1941 closed on a note of disappointment and frustration. Daylight operations, in spite of the gallantry and fine spirit of the crews concerned, were now virtually abandoned, while heavy losses during the autumn had compelled a reduction in the modest scale of the night offensive against Germany. Both the number of nights on which bombers went out and the size of the force employed were considerably less. On the fifteen nights in November and eleven in December when operations took place, the usual effort was smaller than one hundred aircraft. But even when in full operation, this offensive had lacked the concentration in space and time necessary to cause appreciable disruption of the German transport system, dislocation of industry or softening of morale. Earlier conceptions of what a limited and ill-equipped bomber force could achieve had been tried under the hardest conditions of war and found to be over-optimistic. Only now were the difficulties under which the crews laboured being fully realised. Night after night targets had been obscured by cloud or haze, since meteorological information from the Continent was not yet as highly developed as it later became with the advent of the Mosquito. On the other hand, operations from fog-bound bases in eastern England had often to be cancelled or aircraft recalled; or, as happened on several occasions, missions had been carried through at the cost of heavy casualties, the aircraft returning in such conditions that the difficulties of landing were too great for the pilots to overcome.
At the same time the demand for expansion of the force and the heavy casualties suffered during the year had denuded the operational squadrons of many of the more experienced men needed to train their successors. Finally, the introduction of night photography had shown the urgent need for better navigational aids to assist crews in locating their targets. This was the vital problem on which the scientists were already hard at work, and with the realisation of the various other shortcomings, greater efforts were now made to secure and equip a force of sufficient strength to do what many believed was already being done.