The Strategic Bomber Campaign
On most of the 1,886 nights between 1 March 1940 and 31 April 1945 (and on many of the days, too) RAF Bomber Command sent aircraft to attack targets of strategic value to the German war effort. The effort required to do so was immense; the destruction, in the end, practically complete; the cost in aircrew lives lost, tragic with over 50% of all aircrew killed, wounded or captured; the strategic effect – at least in result-based terms, debatable; the morality, obscure; the heroism and sacrifice required of the men who flew those operations; beyond words.
Bomber Command flew a total of 364,484** operational sorties during the Second World war and in doing so 79,281 of its aircrew were killed, 8,403 were wounded and 9,838 became prisoners of war. By mid-1944 Bomber Command comprised 80 squadrons in ten groups, and a total of 126 different squadrons saw service in the Command at some point during the conflict.
In September 1941 the British Air Staff produced a paper on a proposed strategy to be employed against Germany in Europe which included the following;
The ultimate aim of an attack on a town area is to break the morale of the population which occupies it. To ensure this, we must achieve two things: first, we must make the town physically uninhabitable and, secondly, we must make the people conscious of constant personal danger. The immediate aim, is therefore, twofold, namely, to produce (i) destruction and (ii) fear of death.
Two years later in October 1943 and with mounting – bordering unacceptably high – casualties in his command requiring justification, as well as a public discomfort with the strategy’s aim, Bomber Command’s Chief, Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris advocated openness to the public on the purpose of the relentless bombing campaign and its associated losses:
…the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive…should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany… the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories. [Ed. emphasis mine].Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AOC-in-C) RAF Bomber Command
In the pursuit of this the RAF dropped a total of 964,644 tons of bombs on Germany and its forces; it attacked every German city with a population of 500,000 or greater – and many of much lesser size; attempted to destroy Berlin completely; destroyed, completely, an average of 55% of the 25 largest cities in Germany including 83% of Bochum and 75% of Hamburg (and smaller cities weren’t spared, Wesel was 97% destroyed); and killed or wounded approximately 1 million German civilians.
The effect of this unprecedented destruction of a combatant’s home infrastructure and population on the outcome of the war will likely always be debated. The morality of bombing civilians viewed through the prism of 80 years distance in a new century, one where smart bombs don’t miss (they do), civilian casualties measured even in single digits are considered too high (they are) and where those deaths are rigorously investigated (as they should be), and alleged transgressions – war crimes – of even the most lauded soldiers are frequently inquired/prosecuted (again, as they should be).
What is not debatable is the data. While the well documented German increase in production of tanks and aircraft through the major portion of the bombing campaign is frequently cited as prima facia evidence by those that claim the campaign was a failure – and was therefore immoral – there is more to consider when determining the value and effect the Strategic Bombing Campaign had on the outcome of the war.
The real importance of the air war consisted in the fact that it opened a second front long before the invasion in Europe… Defense against air attacks required the production of thousands of anti-aircraft guns, the stockpiling of tremendous quantities of ammunition all over the country, and holding in readiness hundreds of thousands of soldiers, who in addition had to stay in position by their guns, often totally inactive, for months at a time.Albert Speer, Germany’s Minister for Armaments
By January 1943 around 1,000 Luftwaffe night fighters were committed to the defence of the Reich against Bomber Command’s campaign; this in addition to the day fighters required to defend against the USAAF daylight bombing campaign. Almost 9,000 of the finest anti-tank weapon on either side, the 88mm (plus another 25,000 light flak guns) were committed to home defence as flak guns instead of on the battlefield fighting the Russians. At its peak Germany’s home defence required some 90,000 men – the equivalent of around six Infantry Divisions – to man these weapons and perhaps as much as a million more to clean up and rebuild the factories (which came first of course) and the civilian homes destroyed by the bombers.
By 1944 the bombing offensive was consuming 30% of Germany’s artillery production, 20% of its heavy shell production, 33% of its optical industry (required for aiming devices) and 50% of the country’s electro-technical output, all of which was effectively diverted to the bomber defence role instead of the battlefield.
There can be no doubt therefore that Bomber Command’s Strategic Bombing Campaign had a significant effect on Germany’s ability to wage war against the invading armies on both east and western fronts, and through so doing it ultimately made a major contribution to the Allied victory in May 1945.
At almost unimaginable cost.
No. 460 Squadron RAAF, No. 1 Group, RAF Bomber Command
One of 126 squadrons who served in RAF Bomber Command was No.460 Squadron RAAF, originally part of No.8 Group and then to No.1 Group. No. 460 gained distinction as it flew the most sorties (6,262) of any Australian bomber squadron and dropped more bomb tonnage (24,856 tons) than any squadron in the whole of Bomber Command. The squadron maintained the highest readiness rate of aircraft of any Bomber Command Squadron. It also lost the highest number of aircraft (188) and suffered the highest number of combat deaths (1,018 of whom 589 were Australian); the squadron was statistically wiped out five times over during its existence.
No. 460 Squadron came into existence on 15 November 1941 and was initially equipped with Wellington Mk.IV twin engine medium bombers. Based then at RAF Breighton they flew their first raid in March 1942 against the German city of Emden.
In August the Squadron reequipped with Handley Page Halifax’s but only three months later they again reequipped with Avro Lancaster Mks. I and III with which they finished the war. In May 1943 the Squadron made its final wartime move to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire, from where it began operations as part of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany.
In late 1943 and the first half of 1944, the squadron flew sorties in the Battle of Berlin as well as support for the invasion of Europe; its final raid was an attack on Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat of Berchtesgaden on Anzac Day, 1945. In May 1945 the Squadron joined Operation Manna providing transportation of relief supplies to starving Dutch civilians. When the war ended in Europe, 460 Sqd. was designated as part of Tiger Force and was preparing to go into action as part of the Japanese home islands invasion when the war in the Pacific was brought to a close though the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
G-George, Avro Lancaster Mk.I W4783
460 Squadron’s most famous [aircraft] alumni is G-George, a veteran of 90 operations (though in fact its log book shows only 89) and one with the distinction that it brought its crew home safe from each one, even the 24 operations when it came back with flak damage.
Avro Lancaster W4387 was ordered in 1940 in a batch of 400 Lancaster B Mk I and Mk III aircraft. It was delivered to 460 Squadron RAAF on 27 October 1942 and assigned the call sign ‘G’ for George. Its first mission took place on 6 December 1942 against the Germany city of Mannheim and over the next 16 months and 90 operations a total of twenty seven different crews flew in George, though a majority of those were flown by only four; Flight Sergeant (Flt Sgt) J A Saint-Smith (13 operations denoted by the “saint” figure painted next to the bomb motive on the fuselage mission markings), Flt Sgt J Murray (13 operations which are those with the red bar which represented operations in support of the Russians – “All for Joe” ), Flying Officer Henderson (10 operations), and Pilot Officer H Carter (21 operations).
George’s longest operation was a ten hour trip to attack the Italian Naval base in La Spezia, Italy on 13 April 1943. Its last operation was a raid on Cologne, Germany on the night of 20/21 April 1944.
When George was retired from service it had completed more operations than almost any other aircraft in RAF Bomber Command. In June 1944 the Department of Air made it available for war museum purposes and after an extensive overhaul it left for Australia on 11 October 1944, flown by an all-Australian crew captained by Flight Lieutenant E A Hudson, DFC and Bar. Such was George’s fame by this time, it warranted newsreel coverage of its departure;
It arrived in Brisbane, Queensland on 8 November 1944 and the following day was received by 3 Aircraft Depot, Amberley where it was given RAAF registration number A66-2. In 1945 the aircraft toured the eastern states of Australia in connection with the Third Victory Loan until finally declared surplus and transferred to the Australian War Memorial.
According to its log book, Avro Lancaster B.I/III serial number W4783, 460 Squadron code G-George flew 89 operational sorties over occupied Europe at a time when most operational Lancasters were shot down before they reached even 20. Of the 107,085 total operational sorties flown by Lancasters to Germany during the campaign, 2,687 aircraft went missing. Not only did G-George come home after every one of its sorties, it brought home its full crew home alive as well.
In late April 1944 a new Lancaster, serial number ND630 was assigned the Squadron code G-George and it seems likely its crew(s) hoped that the good fortune enjoyed by the original George would continue with the new. Sadly this was not to be, and if anything it was quite the reverse; Only a few days later in fact, ND630 G-George was lost on one of its first operations during the night of 3/4 May over France with the entire crew KIA. NE116 was the next Lancaster coded G-George but it too was shot down just six weeks later on the night of 22/23 June on a sortie to Rheims in France with five of its seven man crew killed (the other two were able to parachute clear and evaded capture). Just a week later, ME793 which carried the code G2 was lost on an operation to Vaires in France, again with the entire crew KIA.
** Statistics quoted in this piece are from Wikipedia and have been used to demonstrate the scale of the Bomber Command strategic campaign as well as provide context for the article; as they are not from primary sources they should be treated as indicative only. See References and Credits for details.
Today W4783 G-George is on permanent display at the Australian War Memorial in the Anzac Hall. It stands as a reminder and in commemoration of those Australians who served in Bomber Command during the Second Worlds War. Every hour or so it becomes part of an interactive display providing just an insight as to what an operation over Germany must have been like for its crew. Just an insight…
The lighting is difficult to photograph but the images below give an indication of the meticulous restoration the AWM completed on the Lancaster.
Airfix 1/72 Scale Avro Lancaster B.III/B.X – Old Tooling
I must admit, that when I bought this kit I didn’t know there was an old tool vs a new tool. Had I known that, I’d have bought the new tool as I would have shied away from the raised surface detail and the simplicity of its engineering. However, undaunted when I learned the awful truth, I pitched in and went way out of my comfort zone in terms of scale and kit quality.
Construction begins with the cockpit, all three or four parts of it. I decided the scale was too small, and the canopy too busy with framework to bother with the cockpit at all so painted everything black and and joined the fuselage halves quite quickly. I also decided not to used the kit parts for the windows as I would be using Micro Krystal Clear instead.
I was warming the the kit by now; its simplicity was bringing me to the painting stage much quicker than expected! There were some fit issues around the engine nacelles but nothing too difficult to deal with and quite soon the major component assembly was complete. I tried very hard to keep the surface details intact and was more successful than I expected to be. Those rivets and panel lines that were lost were replaced with finely stretched sprue and tiny dots of CA glue applied with a pin.
I am fortunate to live within a few hour’s drive of the Australian War Memorial where George is displayed and took the opportunity to take some photos during a visit in February.
I noticed that the wings had strengthening strakes just to the rear of each outboard engine and checked the references to see if they were a post-war addition as they aren’t standard. In my search I found this photo of George about to depart the UK for Australia and I am quite sure they strakes are just visible above the port outboard engine.
My first attempt at replicating the strakes didn’t go very well; I tried to use stretched sprue and the result wasn’t optimal.
I didn’t take long to decide to remove them and instead fabricate the strakes from styrene sheet. I glues each individually to the wing having roughly shaped them beforehand.
When the glue was nicely set, I gently sanded them to reduce their profile to better match those on the real George. When I thought I had them about right, I applied a coat of paint to see how they looked.
They’re actually still a little too proud of the wing surface but I decided to leave them as seen above as I felt I was pushing my luck with the sanding even getting them to this level.
As to the origin of the strakes, subsequent discussion on the Britmodeller site elicited the following;
Those strakes on the AWM Lancaster, G-George, were a short lived solution to the early engine mount weaknesses suffered by the first batch of Lancasters off the production line. The second production Lancaster (really a Manchester that had been converted on the production line) had its No.1 engine fall off upon take-off from Boscombe Down and, following its repair, then had a mainwheel fall off as the gear was lowered on another flight soon afterwards! The first dozen or so Lancasters also had their wingtips snap upwards when flying loaded – many snapped off completely, and all three ‘teething problems’ were quickly solved by modifications introduced on the production lines. G-George was ordered as a Manchester but converted to Lancaster configuration on the production line, hence the wing strakes which have been on the aircraft since she was built. She is the oldest surviving Lancaster airframe and the only one left with the strakes.User “BritJet” Steve at Britmodeller.
In test fitting the major components I found that the fit was good enough that I could do as I’d done with my last two projects, the VF-34 Hellcat and “Lou IV” and assemble the major components after painting and weathering. This is now my default approach as long as the fit is of sufficient quality to do so.
As shown in the pic to top left, I applied a pre-shade to the various parts before applying the Dark Path Brown and then the Dark Green. Having recently treated myself to a new airbrush, I was keen to try my Iwata HP-BH on a freehand camo, even though I fully realise that for a 1/72 scale kit that’s probably not appropriate. Nonetheless I went ahead and and very happy with the airbrush and the result I achieved with it.
Another first was my use of Hataka Red Line paint as my enthusiasm for Vallejo Model Air has waned. I was very please with how the Hataka performed and will now make it my paint of choice. I worked the finish to reveal a little of the pre-shading but also varied the colour density to enhance the appearance of a worn paint finish; my George is modelled as it would have appeared immediately after its 90th and last operational raid on the night of 20 April 1944 to Cologne, Germany. It was a well used aircraft indeed.
With the basic camo finished, I masked it off and painted the black undersides with Tamiya Nato Black. I applied a little texturing to the finish but not a lot as the photos show a uniform finish with very little variation or wear and tear. When the final coat of black was dry I glossed it all up in preparation for the decals. Normally I’d also be looking at applying a panel wash but an unexpected benefit of the raised surface detail was that it wasn’t really necessary. The kit being engineered such that all control surfaces except rudder were separate parts contributed to the redundancy of any panel wash.
The kit includes decals for George so I applied them as instructed with one eye on the reference photos to be sure there were no major discrepancies. I did make one error at this point; the reference photo below (for which I’ve included the AWM’s caption explaining the meaning of the symbols applied in addition to the bomb markings for completed operations) shows some fresher(?) black paint under the top five rows of mission markings which I missed. Once the mission marking decal was applied I had no chance to go back and correct.
Modern Airfix decals seemingly have a poor reputation but I don’t really have any issue with them. I even used the wing walk decals which went down with some help form the Micro Sol and Set. The raised surface detail did make the decal application a little more tricky than usual and I needed to go over a few more than once with a sharp blade and further applications of setting fluid before I eliminated all of the silvering.
Meanwhile I’d been working on all of the other bits and pieces such as the turrets, canopy (which after a failed attempt to avoid masking by hand painting I ended up putting on my big-boy pants and actually masked), undercarriage and was fast approaching the final stages.
Lancasters have a very distinct pattern of exhaust staining, perhaps its actually the defining feature of Lancaster modelling so I want to do a good job with it. I looked around for some images and below are a few that struck me as representative of the general state of exhaust staining on Lancs. The photo bottom left is of George in Australia during one of its War Bonds flights while next to it is VR*A of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, one of only two airworthy Lancasters still flying today.
All show a fairly consistent pattern light grey staining underneath and black with grey staining on the upper sides. The inboard engines produce more staining than outboard with heavy stains from both exhausts, top and bottom whereas the outboard engines only stain the upper surface of the wings on the inboard exhaust; the outboard exhaust on the outboard engines producing stains largely on the underside only.
Working slowly and on the underside first, I attempted to replicate the staining seen above on my model of George. It took a little back and forth but I was very please with how it turned out.
The final task prior to assembly was the the fuselage windows. I used the Krystal Clear for the emergency exits on the spine and the square windows in the forward fuselage. For the small oval shaped windows along the fuselage sides I simply painted them black with a couple gloss coats which to my eye looks quite convincing (except the one I missed, which I see in the finished photos).
With the final painting tasks complete, it was finally time for the assembly of the major components. Quite to my surprise, that took only an hour or so. I attached the undercarriage, gear doors and bomb-bay doors all without a hitch. Notable on George’s undercarriage is the mismatched wheels; the port wheel hub is black while the starboard’s hubs are unpainted.
When the underside of both wings was completed I simply glued the wings to the fuselage with CA glue and moments later put George on its wheels. I installed the turrets for which I’d already trimmed the necessary plastic so that they would settle in place well after the kit’s designer had intended I do so.
I assembled the propellers next having painted the blades Nato Black and the spinners a semi-gloss black which contrasts nicely with the blades. Museum George has red swastikas painted on the tips of its spinners; I decided not to add them to my model for two reasons. The first was the impossibility of painting them well enough that they wouldn’t look like red splotches and the second was that I’m not sure I can see them in any of the contemporary photos of George. For example they’re not visible in this photo of George and its last crew (plus a girlfriend, by the looks of it) at some point soon after its final operation, which was flown to Cologne, Germany on 22 April 1944;
Suddenly, my first 1/72 kit in 40 years, and first Lancaster in much the same period was finished. George was sitting on my bench and there weren’t any parts left to glue on.
I had a bit of a love, not-so-love relationship with this one. I certainly didn’t like the small scale and it’s fiddly-ness… but I loved the speed with which I reached the painting stages. As a finished piece I think it actually looks great and it’s going to look great on the display cabinet – not in it, but on it. As a kit, despite its age it produces a very nice model and my prejudice on old-tool, raised surface detail is well debunked – while still not my go-to kit for any particular subject, I’m no longer adamant in not using them.
My appetite is whetted now for the lure of the bombers… but likely no more old-tool stuff, there’s a new bunch of bomber kits to go play with, some even in 1/48 scale, something I can still see reasonably well enough to work with!
References and Credits
The internet is awash with information on Bomber Command, much on 460 Squadron and even on G-George itself. Below are listed many of the sites I used in researching this piece, however I cannot claim the list is complete.
- The Australian War Memorial – https://www.awm.gov.au
- The AWM G-George Photo Collection
- The AWM G-George Restoration Project
- Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._460_Squadron_RAAF
- Australia’s wartime contribution – https://www.ozatwar.com
A couple of interesting blogs;
This article, its text, and photos of the model(s) is my original work and is protected by copyright in its entirety, except where noted. All research sources are listed above in the References and Credits section above, including photos from official sources. All other images were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use. Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.
Absolutely beautiful work and research!
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Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.
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I concur with a gray…
Thank you Pierre, for the comment and the repost.
Impeccable research and presentation (as usual). And apart from the information, the discussion of the controversy surrounding the bombing campaigns is extremely thoughtfull and balanced. Interesting quote from Speer. Lots of little touches in that article that gave me pause for thought. The introduction describing the outcomes is excellent and concise. The linear narrative makes it all so easy to follow and understand. Photographs of George that you have taken at AWM are stunning.
Thanks for your kind words Barbara, much appreciated.
An interesting read is Arthur Harris’s book “Bomber Offensive” which puts his side of the bombing campaign across. An easy read it’s worth a look to get a balance on the whole affair. The finished model looks great, I think you’ve done marvellous job!
Well Done and as a modeller a faithful representation of G for George too. I would however like to point out one error in your presentation. I know this well as I did the research of my lost Uncle RRB Owen (RAAF) pilot of Lancaster W4166 61 Sq. RAF Syerston Lost on the 20/09/42 over Cochem Germany whille returning from a raid on Munich. Robert had only just moved to 61 Sq. and was previously with 50 Sq. at RAF Swinderby where that colour photo was taken. Its a famous photo and was taken at a Press Day (August 1942) introducing the Lancaster, to the public, though it had been in service since April 1942. You may search Google using my info here and you will find a much better copy of the original photo. It is true to say the Lancaster was only used once prior to D Day on daylight raids and that was its first outing, the famous Augsburg raid of 17 April 1942. A disaster as over half of 44 Sq. were shot down thus proving the Lancaster was not a daylight capable bomber.
Thank you David, much appreciated. I don’t doubt your information for a moment 🙂
Correction to my earlier note – This was from a later press visit to 50 Sq. – a year later in August 1943 after they had moved to RAF Skellingthorpe.
Thanks for the information David.