Bomber Boys

I picked up a copy of this book by Patrick Bishop a couple of
weeks back and by coincidence their activities are once again
in the news and subject to debate. So I can't claim to be
better-informed but I am at least recently informed.

Two or three points often seem to go overlooked. All the
airmen were volunteers. And it was hellishly dangerous.

And that was just the training.

Once on ops, many raids suffered losses of about 5%.
Which seems to have been the loss-rate that high command
were prepared to suffer, as much for economic reasons
as anything else.

A 95% shot at survival doesn't seem so bad at first - until
you multiply it by 30, the standard "tour". At which point
you're looking at a mere one in five chance of completing
your tour without getting shot down, or just crashing on

And if you did get shot down, as opposed to just plain blown
out of the sky, only about two out of seven crewmembers, on
average, would successfully bail out.

Veteran crews were just as susceptible to ack-ack as a new one.

Not surprisingly many airmen started to go just a little bit
bonkers faced with these stats. But the alternative was
being accused of "Lack of Moral Fibre" (LMF), stripped of
rank, and sent off to clean latrines somewhere.

And, worst of all, letting your crew down.

(Interestingly, crews were not (generally) assigned to each
other. They just put a load of pilots, flight engineers,
navigators etc. in a large room and let them get on with it.)

With hindsight, a lot of things could have been better managed.
The gunners were almost entirely ineffectual, and without
them the aircraft could have flown higher and faster - and
with lower loss of life when they did collide with another
aircraft, etc.

And with hindsight, the whole strategy of "area bombing"
is of course suspect. But this was decided at the highest
level, and "Bomber" Harris by and large just did what he
was told. (And he didn't visit squadrons because he knew
full well that if he did one, he'd have to do them all,
and then they'd fart about tarting up the NAAFI instead of
getting on with dropping bombs on Germany).

But these were brave men, facing almost suicidal odds,
taking the war to Germany when there wasn't a whole lot
else going on.

They deserve their memorial.