New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. II)
CHAPTER 1 — Introduction
The closing months of 1942 had brought a distinct change for the better in Allied fortunes. In the North African desert the British Eighth Army under General Alexander and General Montgomery had won a notable victory at El Alamein and was pursuing Rommel's beaten and battered Afrika Korps and Italian Army across Libya towards Tripoli. Farther west surprise landings in French North Africa by American and British forces had brought the whole of Algeria and Morocco and part of Tunisia under Allied control. In the Far East the Japanese had been halted and were now on the defensive. Heavy blows were being struck in New Guinea, and American naval successes were restoring to the United States the predominant position at sea. British troops under General Wavell were advancing from India into Burma and provided further evidence of the growing Allied strength in South-East Asia.
Tidings of remarkable victories also came from Russia, where Soviet armies, having trapped some 300,000 Germans at Stalingrad, were sweeping forward along the caravan trails of the Kalmuck steppes towards the Sea of Azov and Rostov. Indeed, the Red Army, helped by arms from Britain and America, was now on the offensive along its whole vast front. Finally, in Europe, ever-increasing pressure was being exerted against Germany from the west. Heavy RAF raids had begun to spread devastation in the industrial cities of the Rhineland, and every week the power of the air offensive was growing. Although far from beaten, the Luftwaffe seemed unable, for the time being at least, to hit back. Raids on Britain had dwindled to insignificant proportions, and with the peoples of the Commonwealth, in company with powerful allies, now armed, organised, and equipped for war as never before, the prospects seemed more hopeful. Only the shadow of the ever-growing U-boat menace darkened the outlook in the United Kingdom.
Such, briefly, was the war situation when Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met with the Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca in January 1943 to carry their war plans a stage further. The defeat of Germany and Italy had already been declared the primary objective, and now that Great Britain and the United States page 2 possessed powerful and growing forces the problem was how best to bring these forces into action. Both nations had oceans and seas to cross before they could close with their enemies. Apart from the daring and complicated enterprise of landing on defended coasts, there was the need to build up all the supplies and communications necessary for vigorous campaigning once a foothold had been gained. Yet the Germans still held the initiative at sea. Indeed, during the last few months of 1942, sinkings of Allied ships had reached alarming proportions, and even though shipbuilding, as a result of prodigious efforts, bid fair to balance losses, Churchill and Roosevelt recoiled from planning ahead in cold blood on a basis of losing hundreds of thousands of tons a month; the waste of precious cargoes, the destruction of so many noble ships, the loss of heroic crews, combined to present a sombre picture. Therefore came the first decision at Casablanca: ‘The defeat of the U-boat must remain a first charge on the resources of the United Nations.’
Once the measures to be adopted against the U-boat menace had been discussed, the Allied leaders turned their minds to the problem of attacking the Axis countries. Agreement was finally reached on essentials. First, the enemy was to be driven from the Mediterranean. This was to be followed by ‘the assembly of the strongest possible forces in the United Kingdom in readiness to re-enter the Continent as soon as German resistance is weakened to the required extent.’ Meanwhile, ‘the heaviest possible air offensive against the German war effort was to be launched.’ United States Air Forces were to be built up in England as fast as possible and later formations would be based in Italy, from where they would also attack Germany. This would introduce a new element into the air offensive, for while the British heavy bombers were designed for night work the American aircraft were built for daylight flying - they carried a smaller bomb load but were faster and more heavily armed. Thus a combined bomber offensive would be launched in which Germany would be attacked continually ‘round the clock’ and her air force compelled to engage in a war of attrition.
The Casablanca Conference did much to clear the strategic atmosphere especially with regard to the use of air power, and it was thereafter possible for Allied strategists to plan with new assurance. But most of the work of the conference was done on the level of general policy, and although it laid down guiding principles it did not prepare specific plans; even the directive for the bomber offensive provided only a general indication of policy and gave only tentative direction. It therefore became the task in the succeeding months to translate the Casablanca decisions into terms of specific commitments and detailed objectives. This proved far from easy: for while the conquest of Sicily was accepted as a logical step after page 3 the occupation of the North African seaboard, there soon appeared considerable divergence in Allied views as to the next stage. British strategy favoured further exploitation of the successes in the Mediterranean even beyond driving Italy out of the war, but the Americans were more inclined to an early invasion of western France. There was much debate on these matters before it became clear that with the men, supplies, and equipment available, the only continental landing possible in 1943 would be in Italy. The cross-Channel assault was therefore further postponed until the spring of 1944. But under pressure from the Americans this opera- tion, as its code-name overlord implied, now assumed a paramount position in Allied planning, with particular emphasis on development of the combined attack on Germany by Royal Air Force Bomber Command and the United States 8th Air Force.
In Berlin the opening of the fourth year of war was regarded with far less optimism. However, while an early victory now seemed remote, the Nazi leaders felt that they could defeat an invasion of the Continent, upon which the discouragement and distress of the Allies might be such that the attempt would not be repeated. Meanwhile the war at sea was going well for the Germans and, in spite of severe reverses on the Eastern Front, Hitler still hoped to deal Russia so hard a blow that even if she could not be conquered her aggressive power would be restricted. Further, German scientists were now pressing forward the development of long-range weapons with which they hoped to pound London and other British cities to rubble. One of these weapons was the flying bomb, another a huge rocket missile, and there were variations on these two main themes. Experiments with the still more deadly possibilities of atomic weapons were also being made in Germany.
But in the meantime the war had to be fought and, both in the air and on land, the immediate prospects were less favourable for the Germans. The Luftwaffe in particular was in serious difficulties. A long period of air fighting on three widely separated fronts, culminating in the major effort at Stalingrad first to force a decision and then to extricate the surrounded German Army, had imposed a severe strain and raised urgent problems of manpower and equip- ment. On top of this there was the imminent threat of heavier Anglo-American air attacks. Far-sighted officers of the German Air Staff had already seen the imperative need for a radical change of policy to meet this new threat, but any attempt on their part to present the facts realistically was liable to be castigated as ‘defeatism’. Only when it was too late did their arguments secure grudging support. At the beginning of 1943 both Hitler and Goering refused to accept proposals that the Luftwaffe should page 4 sacrifice its offensive power to the requirements of defence, and it was only as the Allied air attack on German industry developed that, under pressure of circumstances, fighter production was given priority, and even then Hitler was still disinclined to accept any reduction of bomber output in favour of fighters. Eventually Germany was compelled to devote the greater proportion of her aircraft industry to the building of fighters, and her offensive power was further weakened by the transfer of some bomber types to the role of night fighter.
Many of the Luftwaffe's current difficulties were the result of persistent optimism and lack of firm direction on Goering's part during the early years. Udet, his old comrade in arms from the First World War to whom the task of building up the Air Force had originally been entrusted, had committed suicide in despair at the end of 1941, and his successor, Milch, had also failed to secure sanction for expansion programmes. Thus, during the critical period of 1942 while the Allied war potential was being rapidly mobilised and built up, the fighting value of the Luftwaffe had considerably declined. By 1 January 1943 its operational strength, the barometer of fighting capacity, had sunk to some 4000 aircraft, while its initial reserves, previously an important adjunct, had fallen away to almost nothing. Little provision had been made to meet the possibility of a major setback such as now occurred. Indeed, the German leaders had resolutely declined to consider the possibility of being compelled to wage a defensive war in the air. From the beginning they had planned for a series of blitzkriegs of short duration and, in spite of reverses, had clung to their belief in a rapid victory even as late as the second half of 1942. Yet now, when this hope could no longer be entertained and it was imperative to lay down a new programme for a long war, decisions were made with reluctance and hesitation.
Goering, although still Reitchsmarshall and head of the Luftwaffe, was fast losing his grip on events. The successive failures over Britain and in Russia had badly shaken Hitler's faith in the Luftwaffe and its chief, and he now took it upon himself to make important decisions on air matters. Relations between the two Nazi leaders became more and more strained, with Goering as doubtful about Hitler's genius as Hitler was of Goering's ability as air com- mander. Already there had been many dramatic interviews, and to escape the tension of such meetings and the reproaches of his Fuehrer Goering had withdrawn into a fantastic world of his own and taken less and less interest in affairs. General Jeschonnek, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe, eventually broke down under the strain of the confusing and contradictory tasks he was set and shot himself in August 1943.page 5
As the months passed there was some evidence of a loss of fighting spirit in the German squadrons and the transfer during the fourth winter of the war of 200,000 trained men from the German Air Force to the Army can scarcely have improved morale. While suicide was apparently a popular item in the Nazi code, the rise in the suicide rate in the Luftwaffe from a modest 45 a month in 1941 to 70 a month in 1943 also tells its own tale. It was probably for the purpose of keeping up the morale of their air services that the German High Command credited certain fighter pilots with successes which now seem incredible. For example, by the autumn of 1943 four pilots had been awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross for the destruction of two hundred Allied aircraft each.
Yet despite the struggle of the German Air Staff against the obstinacy of Hitler, the incompetence of Goering, and the failure of the High Command to appreciate the consequences of losing air supremacy, the Luftwaffe, particularly its fighter arm, remained a substantial force to be reckoned with in all military calculations up to the closing months of the war. Each stage of what was, from 1943 onwards, a losing battle was bitterly contested.
In marked contrast to the increasing difficulties which faced the German Air Force at the beginning of 1943 was the steady growth of Allied air power. The build-up in the United Kingdom of American strength was now reaching significant proportions, and earlier plans for the expansion of the RAF were also bearing fruit. A vast mass of weapons and machines poured from the busy factories of Britain, the United States, and Canada. They included more powerful bombers, faster and more efficient fighters, together with reconnaissance aircraft of greater range that would reach out and strike the U-boats in mid-Atlantic. The American output, which by the end of 1943 rose to more than 8000 machines a month, included large numbers of transport aircraft; Britain devoted less attention to this type, but her output of heavy bombers was as notable in relation to her productive capacity as that of the United States, while her production of such smaller machines as the Spitfire was prodigious.
Few completely new aircraft were introduced into the Royal Air Force during the second half of the war, technical superiority over the Luftwaffe being maintained by the steady development and progressive refinement of existing types such as the Lancaster and Halifax, the versatile Mosquito with its varied combat and photographic reconnaissance duties, new marks of Spitfire for both high and low-altitude work, and the Typhoon fighter and fighter-bomber. American types continued to add to the strength of the RAF, but the page 6 bulk of the aircraft in service in all commands continued to be of British design and construction.
To fly the larger number of machines now available a great army of aircrew, pilots, navigators, and wireless operators and air gunners was ready, and more would follow from the training establishments in an ever-increasing flow. As regards the Royal Air Force, this had been made possible by the extension and expansion of the Commonwealth Air Training Plans during 1942. Such was the success of the various schemes that towards the end of 1944, when the German Air Force was cutting down its training programme in a desperate attempt to provide sufficient front-line aircrew, the Royal Air Force, partly it is true because likely casualties were over- estimated, found itself embarrassed by the flow of trained men arriving in the United Kingdom. The squadrons were unable to absorb all of them before the war in Europe came to an end.
Throughout the second half of the war New Zealand continued to make a substantial contribution towards the achievement of Allied supremacy in the air. The training organisations in the Dominion had been expanding continuously since the beginning of the war, so that in spite of the increasingly important part played by the RNZAF in the Pacific area, New Zealand was able to continue sending airmen to the Royal Air Force through the Empire Air Training Plan. Pupils of each category received their preliminary ground training in New Zealand. Then the observers and air gunners, together with a proportion of pilots, were sent to Canada for further training, the balance of the pilots completing their course in New Zealand. By the middle of 1943 the number of New Zealand airmen under training was 20,000 and the total with the RNZAF and the RAF was some 42,000, of whom one-third were overseas serving in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, in India and Burma, as well as in the Pacific. Seven New Zealand squadrons had now been formed in the Royal Air Force, three of them with Fighter Command, two with Coastal Command and two with Bomber Command. Yet, splendid though their record was to be, these seven squadrons represented but a small part of the Dominion's contribution, for the majority of its men serving with the Royal Air Force were scattered among RAF units.
This continued dispersal was inevitable however undesirable some considered the submergence of the identity of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The main difficulty was that New Zealanders on completing their training reached the RAF in small groups, sometimes all of the same aircrew category, and therefore could not easily be formed into separate operational units without dislocation of training and frustrating delays to the men themselves. So while page 7 efforts were made to see that the seven New Zealand squadrons already formed in the RAF received their full quota of Dominion aircrew, and Air Ministry endeavoured to post New Zealanders to squadrons in which their fellow countrymen were already serving, no further New Zealand squadrons were formed in the Royal Air Force after 1943. In any case, the policy of concentrating men from a particular part of the Commonwealth in separate units, strongly advocated in some quarters, was far from being universally popular among the aircrews themselves, many of whom when given the choice preferred to serve with RAF units. Moreover, it was the considered opinion of some who were in a position to see both sides of the problem that the more flexible arrangements adopted by New Zealand were not only of the greatest help to the RAF in securing the best possible employment of all trained aircrew but also had a broadening effect on all concerned. Administrative difficulties were reduced to a minimum by close co-operation between the Air Ministry and the New Zealand Air Headquarters in London on such matters as the employment of the New Zealand squadrons, the posting of senior RNZAF officers, and the general welfare of Dominion airmen attached to the Royal Air Force.
By the beginning of 1943 some of the New Zealanders who had served with the RAF in Britain during the early campaigns had been posted to the Middle or Far East and a few had returned to serve with the RNZAF in the Pacific. Nevertheless, the main contribution continued to be in the European theatre, and it is with the services of New Zealanders in this sphere of operations that the present volume is primarily concerned.
1 Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC, DFC, AFC, Legion of Honour (Fr.), Distinguished Service Medal (US), Order of Leopold (Bel.); Croix de Guerre with Palm (Bel.); born Brisbane, 19 Jan 1895; 1 NZEF 1914–16; entered RFC 1916; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC No. 4 Group, Bomber Command, 1939–41; AOC Western Desert, 1941–43; AOC 1st TAF, N. Africa, Sicily, Italy, 1943–44; AOC-in-C 2nd TAF, invasion of NW Europe and Germany, 1944–45; lost when air liner crashed during Atlantic crossing, Jan 1948.
2 Air Marshal Sir Roderick Carr, KBE, CB, DFC, AFC, Orders of St. Stanislas and St. Anne (Rus.), Croix de Guerre (Fr.); RAF (retd); born NZ 31 Aug 1891; 1 NZEF 1914; transferred RNAS 1915 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1926; served in France, 1939–40, with Advanced Air Striking Force; AOC N. Ireland, 1940–41; AOC No. 4 Group, Bomber Command, 1941–44; DCAS, Supreme HQ, Allied Expeditionary Force, 1944–45; AOC Base Air Forces, SE Asia, 1945; AOC-in-C India, 1946.
1 Air Vice-Marshal F. H. M. Maynard, CB, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); RAF (retd); born Waiuku, 1 May 1893; served with RN Divisional Engineers 1914–15; transferred RNAS 1915; RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC RAF Mediterranean, 1940–41; Air Officer in Charge of Administration, Coastal Command, 1941–44; AOC No. 19 Group, Coastal Command, 1944–45.
2 Air Vice-Marshal H. B. Russell, CB, DFC, AFC; RAF (retd); born Hastings, 6 May 1895; commissioned Royal Field Artillery, 1914; seconded RFC 1915 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; SASO No. 21 Training Group, 1939–40; SASO No. 2 RAF Component, France, 1940; served with Fighter Command, 1940–41; AOC No.215 Group, Middle East, 1942–43; AOC No. 70 Group, United Kingdom, 1943–45; Air Officer i/c Administration, HQ FTC, 1946–49.
3 Air Vice-Marshal A. McKee, CB, CBE, DSO, DFC, AFC; RAF; born Oxford, Canterbury, 10 Jan 1902; joined RAF 1926; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 9 Sqdn, 1940; Wing Commander, Training, No. 3 Bomber Group, 1941; commanded RAF Station, Marham, 1941–42; RAF Station, Downham Market, 1942–43; Base Commander, Mildenhall, 1943–45; AOC No. 205 Group, Italy, 1945; SASO HQ Mediterranean and Middle East, 1946–47; Commandant RAF Flying College, Manby, 1949–51; AOC No. 21 Group 1951–53; SASO Bomber Command 1953-.
4 Air Commodore S. C. Elworthy, CBE, DSO, DFC, AFC; RAF; born Timaru, 23 Mar 1911; permanent commission RAF 1936; commanded No. 82 Sqdn, 1940–41; Ops Staff, No. 2 Bomber Group, 1941; Group Captain, Operations, HQ Bomber Command, 1942–43; commanded RAF Station, Waddington, 1943–44; Air Staff, HQ Bomber Com- mand, 1944; SASO No. 5 Bomber Group, 1944–45; commanded Royal Pakistan Air Force Station, Drighroad, 1945–49; RAF Stations, Tangmere and Odiham, 1951–53.
5 Air Commodore G. T. Jarman, DSO, DFC; RAF; born Ashburton, 20 Feb 1906; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; CGI No. 2 FTS, 1939-40; commanded No. 77 Sqdn, 1940–41; No. 76 Sqdn, 1941; 19 OTU, 1941–43; RAF Station, Wigtown, 1943; DCAS, RNZAF, 1943–44; AOC No. 229 Group, ACSEA, 1945.
6 Group Captain G. J. Grindell, DFC, AFC and bar; RAF; born Geraldine, 20 Aug 1910; joined RAF 1932; permanent commission 1938; flying duties No. 5 FTS, 1939–40; Air Staff, HQ FTC, 1940–42; commanded No. 487 (NZ) Sqdn, 1942–43; RAF Station, Fiskerton, 1943-44; SASO RAF Mission to Australia and New Zealand, 1944–46.
7 Group Captain L. E. Jarman, DFC; RAF; born Christchurch, 17 Aug 1907; joined RAF 1929; permanent commission 1934; CFI No. 23 OTU 1941; commanded RAF Station, Litchfield, 1941–42; SASO No. 93 Group, 1942–43; commanded RAF Station, Kir- mington, 1943; RAF Station, Wyton, 1943–44; SASO No. 205 Group, Italy, 1944–45.
8 Group Captain P. L. Donkin, CBE, DSO; RAF; born Invercargill, 19 Jun 1913; Cranwell cadet; permanent commission RAF 1933; commanded No. 225 Sqdn, 1939–40; No. 4 Sqdn, 1940; No. 239 Sqdn, 1940–42; No. 33 Wing, 1942–43; No. 35 Wing, 1943–44; Member of RAF Delegation, USA, on visit to Pacific and Indian theatres of war, 1944; CI, School of Air Support, 1944–45.
9 Group Captain P. G. Jameson, DSO, DFC and bar, Norwegian War Cross, Silver Star (US), Order of Orange Nassau (Hol.); RAF; born Wellington, 10 Nov 1912; joined RAF 1936; commanded No. 266 Sqdn, 1940–41; Wing Leader, Wittering, 1941–42, and North Weald, 1942–43; Planning Staff, No. 11 Fighter Group, 1943–44; commanded No. 122 Wing, 2nd TAF, 1944–45; Air Ministry 1946–48; commanded Wunsdorf Station, 2nd TAF, 1952–54; SASO No. 11 Group, 1954-.
10 Group Captain H. N. G. Isherwood, DFC, AFC, Order of Lenin (USSR); born Petone, 13 Jul 1905; served with NZ Mounted Rifles, 1924–30; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; flying duties, Aeronautical and Armament Experimental Establish- ment, 1936–41; Sector Commander, No. 9 Fighter Group, 1941; Controller, HQ No. 9 Fighter Group, 1941; commanded No. 151 Hurricane Wing in Russia, 1941; commanded RAF Stations, Church Stanton, Valley and Woodvale, 1942–44; RAF Station, Mauripur, India, 1944–45; commanded No. 342 Wing, SE Asia, 1945; killed in aircraft accident, 24 Apr 1950.
1 Air Commodore R. L. Kippenberger, CBE; RAF; born Prebbleton, Canterbury, 3 Dec 1907; joined RAF1930; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 142 Sqdn, 1941; RAF Station, Feltwell, 1942; RAF Station, Swanton Morley, 1943; Group Captain, Operations, HQ No. 2 Bomber Group, 1944; commanded No. 137 Wing, No. 2 Bomber Group, 1944–45; RAF Mission to Aust and NZ, 1946–49; commanded RAF Station, Upwood, 1950–52; AOC No. 64 Group, 1953–54.
2 Group Captain D. J. Scott, DSO, OBE, DFC and bar; born Ashburton, 11 Sep 1918; salesman; joined RNZAF Mar 1940; commanded No. 486 (NZ) Sqdn, 1943; Wing Leader, Tangmere, 1943–44; commanded RAF Station, Hawkinge, 1944; No. 123 Wing, 2nd TAF, 1944–45.
3 Wing Commander R. F. Aitken, OBE, AFC; RAF; born Outram, 15 Sep 1913; joined RAF 1937; a pioneer of air-sea rescue; commanded No. 3 Sqdn, 1941–42; Wing Commander, Night Ops, No. 11 Fighter Group, 1942; commanded RAF Station, Hawkinge, 1942; RAF Station, Bradwell Bay, 1942–43; No. 150 Airfield, Bradwell Bay, 1944–45.
4 Wing Commander J. S. McLean, OBE, DFC; RAF; born Hawera, 19 Feb 1912; joined RAF 1932; commanded No. 111 Sqdn, 1941; Wing Leader, North Weald, 1941; commanded RAF Station, Hunsdon, 1941–42; RAF Station, Catterick, 1943; Staff duty, Organisation, No. 10 Fighter Group, 1944; commanded RAF Station, Preddanack, 1945.
5 Air Commodore A. E. Clouston, DSO, DFC, AFC and bar; RAF; born Motueka, 7 Apr 1908; joined RAF 1930; test pilot, Experimental Section, Royal Aircraft Establishment, 1939–40; served with Directorate of Armament Development, MAP, 1940–41; commanded No. 1422 Flight, 1941–43; No. 224 Sqdn, 1943–44; RAF Station, Langham, 1944–45; BAFO Communication Wing, 1945–47; RNZAF Station, Ohakea, 1947–49; RAF Station, Leeming, 1950; Commandant Empire Test Pilots' School, 1950–53; AOC Singapore, 1954–.
6 Group Captain D. McC. Gordon, OBE, AFC; RAF (retd); born Waverley, 7 Apr 1905; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; CFI No. 7 FTS, 1938–40; commanded an Initial Training School, Canada, 1940–41; Control duties, HQ No. 18 Group, 1941–42; commanded No. 119 Sqdn, 1942–43; RAF Stations, Invergordon, Castle Archdale and Lagens, Azores, 1943–46.
2 Group Captain G. E. Watt, CBE, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); RAF (retd); born Frankton, 10 Feb 1908; permanent commission RAF 1933; test pilot, RAE Farnborough, 1939–40; research duties with MAP, 1940–43; Deputy Director Special Projects, MAP, 1943–45; CEO Fighter Command, 1950–51; CTO RAF College, Henlow, 1953–54.
3 Journal of the Aeronautical Sciences, February 1946 – Ninth Wright Brothers Lecture on ‘British Aircraft Gas Turbines’.
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At the beginning of 1943, although eventual victory seemed more certain, hard battles had still to be fought. The tide had turned, but it had a long way to go back. And while the Allied leaders, cheered by the remarkable victories on land and apprised of the enemy's increasing difficulties, could see the way ahead more clearly, to the ordinary aircrew member of a squadron, and perhaps even more to the airman who worked on the aircraft in hangars or at dispersal points on airfields in Britain, the grand strategy of the war seemed remote and meant little. True, the fighter pilots saw tangible evidence of the favourable progress of the war as in ever larger formations they escorted bombers to attack targets deeper and deeper in enemy territory, but to the men with Coastal Command the war against the German U-boats was for the most part a dull routine of patrols over the sea in which only a few saw action. The bombing offensive was also an impersonal sort of war and monotonous in its own peculiar way. Night after night as weather and equipment permitted, the Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings went out, dropped their bombs, and turned homeward. The immediate results of their attacks could be photographed and assessed by skilled interpreters but rarely was a single raid or series of raids decisive; whatever earlier theory had taught of the sudden paralysis of a nation by strategic bombardment, it was now clear that the effects of bombing were gradual, cumulative, and during the course of the campaign rarely measurable with any degree of assurance. Thus there was little visible progress, such as Allied soldiers could sense as they pushed Rommel's forces back from El Alamein to Cape Bon, to encourage the men of Bomber Command. The crews went out time and again to hit targets which they had seemingly demolished before, and it was only towards the end that the full results of the bombing attacks became apparent. As drama the ‘big show’ tended to be flat, repetitive, and without climax.
However, as the months passed, with the Allies moving towards mastery of the air over Europe, preparations for the invasion of the Continent brought a quickening of interest on all sides. Even to the humblest airman it then became clear that his particular job, however small its scope, had meaning as part of the overall plan. page 12 And when finally the Allied armadas set sail and were able to cross the Channel unhindered by enemy air or naval craft, and then the armies, with a minimum of casualties from enemy bombing, were able to secure a lodgment on enemy territory, the men of the Allied air forces could justifiably feel a deep sense of achievement.
Those who worked and flew with the Royal Air Force in these later years of the war continued to show the same enthusiasm, courage, and devotion to duty that had been a feature of the earlier campaigns. They also displayed great skill in the handling of new and highly technical weapons and in applying the subtlest and most intricate devices of modern science. Young and adventurous, they were capable of sudden and wild bursts of gaiety and high spirits when the tension of their work was momentarily relaxed. Sometimes these outbursts were spontaneous – like summer lightning – but often it was a particular success or an unexpected survival that called for a ‘party’, for letting off steam in an atmosphere of ‘eat, drink and be merry for to-morrow we may not be so lucky.’
Typical of this lighter side of service life were the visits to the ‘local’. For in town or village near most stations there was always the ‘King's Head’ or ‘Rose and Crown’ to which men roared along, packed in cars of ancient vintage and with ruffled hair and scarves flying, to pass an hour in gay banter, song or darts. There would be much talk of ‘wizard types’, ‘binding jobs’, ‘duff gen’ and ‘bad prangs’, and amid the laughter and clatter of glasses lots of ‘natter’ about ‘pressing on regardless’ in ‘ropey kites’ and some good ‘line- shooting’. On such occasions deep underneath was hidden the real men who had ‘seen their comrades fall from the skies and knew too well the look in dead men's eyes.’ Some observers, deceived by the apparent light-hearted and carefree attitude shown by the air- crews, were inclined to frown at such frivolity and the ‘indiscipline’ of the service. They failed to realise that these men, shining youth on the threshold of life, were living under circumstances of intense and continual strain and that, in Bomber Command particularly, they were faced with the very strong possibility of death in one of its least pleasant forms.
Yet these same young men could be both grim and purposeful when occasion demanded. There was much pride in squadron achievement and a fine spirit of comradeship among the members of individual crews. And if the effect of their sorties was seldom evident at the time, many men found ample compensation in the exhilaration of speed, in the sense of elation which came from flying a high-powered machine, and even in such small things as the sight of a familiar beacon or landmark at the end of a long flight. In spite of inevitable periods of frustration when for various reasons things did not go well, and periods of inaction when men page 13 became ‘browned off’, as they put it, there was quiet determination to see the job through and an underlying contentment in the knowledge that difficult tasks were faithfully carried out. Many of the brightest and best of those who served in the air arm did not survive to see the crowning success. Yet all played their part in winning the air supremacy that was to prove the cornerstone of victory.
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Air operations during the second half of the war were many and varied. They also passed through many different phases, but throughout there was steady development of new tactics, expanding strength, and heavier offensive by the Allied forces. In the European theatre the outstanding feature of the early months of 1943 was the successful campaign against the U-boats in the Atlantic. Attention then turned to the aerial assault on Germany, which offensive tended to be divided into two steadily increasing phases – night operations by the Royal Air Force and daylight attacks by the USAAF, although medium bombers, fighter-bombers, and fighters of the RAF kept up a steady, if less spectacular, offensive by day throughout the year.
By the end of 1943 the combined Allied air attack was gaining momentum, and as the heavy bombers penetrated to the heart of Germany more and more of German air power was deployed to protect vital war industries. The defence was strong and vigorous and the Allies suffered severe casualties. But after the heavy attacks on German aircraft factories and the fierce battles over enemy territory during the early months of 1944, the outcome of the air war was no longer in doubt. With the Luftwaffe seriously weakened and driven back almost entirely on to the defensive, the concentration of invasion forces in Britain could proceed without fear of serious air attack. The domination by Allied air power of the beaches of Normandy was also assured.
In March 1944 the air campaign in preparation for the assault on Europe entered its final stage and a sustained attack was begun by the heavy bombers upon the railway system in France and Belgium. Meanwhile the Second Tactical Air Force had been formed in Britain to give close support to the Allied armies when they landed on the Continent. Drawing on experience gained in the Middle East, where the co-operation between the ground and air forces during the North African campaigns had been highly success- ful, its squadrons had joined in the wide pattern of operations by which Allied air power was exercised to help the armies establish themselves on the Continent.page 14
With the successful landings in Normandy the role of air power in conjunction with land forces again came into full play. The breakout from the bridgehead was preceded by saturation bombing of the enemy positions. The medium and heavy bombers, fighters and fighter-bombers then joined in attacks on concentrations of troops and armour, on road and rail communications, and on vital crossroads and supply dumps. Enemy aircraft were engaged in battle wherever they appeared and there were raids on airfields, reconnaissance and transport flights as the land-air team pursued the Germans to the Siegfried Line. They fought it out over Holland and Belgium, met the enemy's counter-attacks in the Ardennes with determined ground and air action, and pushed forward again up to and across the Rhine and into the heart of Germany. Meanwhile, behind the enemy lines, air power played a vital role with attacks on communications by land and sea and on the enemy's dwindling resources of oil and power. And so effective were these attacks that when the end came the collapse of the whole German economy was imminent.
Partner with the Navy over the sea lanes; partner with the Army in ground battles; partner with both on the invasion beaches; reconnaissance photographer for all; mover of troops and critical supplies; defender of the home base; attacker of the enemy air force and vital strength far behind the actual battle line – this in brief is the broad sweep of the many roles which air power was to be called upon to play in the achievement of final victory. And these various roles were not played in separate scenes, but rather almost all of them would be going on at the same time. The menace of the submarine was never ended; support of the ground troops went on from day to day; the war in the air continued to the end, and while the weight of the bombing attack was sometimes directed against oil, sometimes on aircraft factories, sometimes on transport or other target systems, each had to have continual attention. Since the first outstanding achievement of the second half of the war was a notable victory against the U-boats in the Atlantic, it is appropriate to turn first to the war at sea.