By the same author
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
BLOCKADE BY AIR
J. M. SPAIGHT, C.B., C.B.E.
37 ESSEX STREET, STRAND, LONDON
First published 1944
CONFORMITY WITH THE AUTHORIZED
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
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THE UNIVERSITY PRESS, GLASGOW
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE BOMBER SAVES CIVILISATION
'The bomber saves civilisation': my first chapter heading may strike some readers as a paradox, possibly as a perversion of the truth, at best as an overstatement made for the purpose of calling attention to what I have to say. It is nothing of the kind. I am not trying to shock or to bamboozle the reader. I am stating the truth as the truth appears to me. The bomber is the saver of civilisation. We have not grasped that fact as yet, mainly because we are slaves to pre-conceived conceptions about air warfare. Air warfare is the dog with a bad name. The bad name is, on the whole, a calumny. This book is an attempt to rehabilitate it, not against the facts of the case but because of the facts of the case. Civilisation, I believe firmly, would have been destroyed if there had been no bombing in this war. It was the bomber aircraft which, more than any other instrument of war, prevented the forces of evil from prevailing. It was supposed to be the chosen instrument of aggression. Actually, it was precisely the opposite. Aggression would have had a clearer run if there had been no bombers—on either side. And the greatest contribution of the bomber both to the winning of the war and the cause of peace is still to come.
This view of mine, I feel entitled to add, is no newly formed one. For twenty years or more I have believed, and written, that air power was very far from being the menace to civilisation which it was commonly supposed to be. I have no need in this particular matter to cry Peccavi—as I have, alas! in some others. Air power never was and is not now the villain of the piece in war.
'Air power', some reader may say. 'Yes, in so far as it is represented by the fighters it is the defender of civilisation; but how can you pretend that the bombers save civilisation?' I agree about the fighters. They saved the cause of freedom in the battle of Britain. What they did then is acknowledged by all. Their fame is immortal. So, too, should be that of the bombers, whose rôle as preservers rather than wreckers is less well understood. It is assuredly in no spirit of disparagement of the magnificent record of the fighters that I emphasise here the no less superb and no less important rôle which the other branch of our Air Force played in the great drama of war which we have been witnessing, and that I insist upon the essentially defensive character of that branch's activities.
If there was one subject upon which there was almost universal agreement before the war it was, first, that another war would be the end of civilisation, and, secondly, that aircraft would be the prime agents in the causation of that end. There was hardly a dissentient voice; but one there was, and it is worthy of record. In the House of Commons on 15 March, 1937, Mr. Austin Hopkinson said: 'I say, presupposing that war is to continue, and that is a presumption, I think, upon which it would be safe to base our policy at the present time, the more that war is fought in the air the more likely it is to prove the salvation rather than the destruction of civilisation.' With that prediction it would not be an exaggeration to say that not one person in a thousand would have agreed at that time. The other view, that aircraft would make war more terrible and more homicidal than it had ever been, was the accepted view. It was expressed not only in the popular literature of the day—for example, in such books as Mr. A. A.
Milne's Peace with Honour and Mr. Beverley Nichols's Cry Havoc—but also in the solemn warnings of responsible Ministers. One such warning was given a few years earlier and it had an immense influence upon public opinion.
On 10 November, 1932, a famous British statesman made in the House of Commons one of the most eloquent and moving speeches ever heard in that assembly. It was acclaimed by all parties as a noteworthy pronouncement upon the subject which was then being debated in Geneva and in all the capitals of the civilised world: the subject of disarmament, especially in the air. Now, it is the simple truth and no paradox to say that practically every major proposition in that speech could be turned round and made to state the opposite of what was actually said, and the result would then be nearer the truth than in fact it was. It was not only that the speech was wrong in such specific statements as that 'the bomber will always get through': which we now know it will not against powerful defences by day, so that an unqualified statement such as that made in the speech was, in fact, incorrect.  It was rather in the general approach to the new situation that the speech went astray. Its main thesis was that the only hope for humanity lay in the agreed abolition of all military aircraft, or, if that could not be effected, at least the prohibition of bombing, together with the institution of such control of civil aviation as would prevent its misuse for warlike purposes. The speaker appealed to the younger men, on whom, he said, a failure to act betimes would re-
1 Professor F. A. Lindemann in a letter to the Daily Telegraph of 25 May, 1935, spoke of the 'fatal obsession' which seemed to be 'implanted so firmly in the minds of nearly everyone in authority' that there was no possible defence against the bomber and that all that could be done by the people bombed was to repay the enemy by 'reprisals more ghastly and more bloody than anything they can inflict'. 'In the whole of recorded history,' he said, 'no weapon has ever yet been invented to which a counter has not been found.'
coil, to decide to take the measures necessary to preserve themselves from the threatened doom.
Now, it is a more sustainable proposition that the hope of civilisation lay then and in the years that followed on the retention rather than on the abolition of air forces, and, furthermore, that it was on the older generation and not on the young that the calamities which a failure to abolish them would entail were likely to fall. It was indeed to sacrifice the young to let the old order of war continue. War had become by 1918 a sheer massacre of boys. War in the air is terrible but it is not that. The most disastrous calamity that can befall any generation of men is that which strikes down the flower of it. That, and nothing else, is the destruction of civilisation which all efforts should be bent to preventing. It was, and is, the tragic harvest of the historical husbandry of war. It is a necessary harvest when great land-battles are the only means not only of clinching but of preparing for a decision. The tremendous difference which air warfare makes is that the long process of attrition can be carried on without any comparable waste of human life.
Let me illustrate my argument by comparing what happened in five months in 1916 and what happened in nine months in 1940-41. The battle of the Somme began on 1 July, 1916, and went on until the end of November. We and the French lost in killed, wounded, missing and prisoners—the last were not many—about 630,000 officers and men. The German losses were about 680,000  In the
1 Official History, Military Operations, France and Belgium, 2 July, 1916, to end of battles of Somme, p. 553; also Preface to same volume, p. xvi. Our losses in the Somme battles were greater than the total losses incurred by
nine months, September 1940—May 1941, during which the intensive air raids upon this country continued, the losses sustained by us were approximately 90,000 persons killed and seriously injured. That figure is only half as much again as the loss incurred by the British army on one day alone (1 July) in 1916. But, it will be said, the comparison is unfair, for much more important results were obtained on that one day in July (and in the subsequent battles) than air operations could possibly have achieved over many months. Not so: I dispute that conclusion. On the contrary, I suggest that our own raids on Germany have caused more damage to her war-effort and contributed more effectively to her ultimate defeat than did all our land battles in the last war before 8 August, 1918. Read what Mr. Churchill has to say about the Somme.
'Night closed [on 1 July] over the whole thundering battlefield. Nearly 60,000 British soldiers had fallen, killed or wounded, or were prisoners in the hands of the enemy. This was the greatest loss and slaughter sustained in a single day in the whole history of the British Army.'  'The extent of the catastrophe was concealed by the censorship.'  In the first five days of the battle we lost nearly 100,000 of our best troops, and 'the ground conquered was so limited both in width and depth as to exlude [sic] any strategic results.'  Summing up the results of all the fighting on the Somme, Mr. Churchill says:
'The campaign of 1916 on the Western Front was from
British Empire forces during the first three years of the present war. The latter were given by Mr. Attlee in the House of Commons on 1 June; 1943, as 92,089 killed, 226,719 missing, 88,294 wounded and 107,891 prisoners: a total of 514,933. The proportion of prisoners (and probably many of the huge total of missing will be found also to be prisoners) was immensely greater in the figures for 1939-42 than in those for the Somme battles.
2 W. S. Churchill, The World Crisis, 1916-8, Part I, p. 179.
3 Ibid., p. 180. 4 Ibid ., p. 180.
beginning to end a welter of slaughter, which after the issue was determined left the British and French armies weaker in relation to the German than when it opened, while the actual battle fronts were not appreciably altered. . . . The battlefields of the Somme were the graveyards of Kitchener's Army. The flower of that generous manhood which quitted peaceful civilian life in every kind of workaday occupation, which came at the call of Britain, and, as we may still hope, at the call of humanity, and came from the most remote parts of the Empire, was shorn away for ever in 1916. 
The blood-bath of the Somme was succeeded in the following year (1917) by that of Passchendaele, the horror and futility of which another Prime Minister has recorded with still more trenchant pen. Passchendaele, Mr. Lloyd George concludes, was 'a reckless gamble' on the chance of a rainless autumn on the Flemish coast. And the rains, alas! came. 'Artillery became bogged, tanks sank in the mire, unwounded men by the hundreds and wounded men by the thousands sank beyond recovery in the filth. It is a comment upon the intelligence with which the whole plan had been conceived and prepared that after the ridge had been reached it was an essential part of the plan that masses of cavalry were intended to thunder across this impassable bog to complete the rout of a fleeing enemy.'  'While the ghastliness I have inadequately summarised was proceeding, and brave men were being sacrificed to the stubborn infatuation of the High Command, the public at home, official and unofficial, were all being dosed day by day with tendentious statements about vic-
1 W. S. Churchill, op. cit. pp. 194, 195.
2 D. Lloyd George, War Memoirs, Vol. IV, p. 2211.
The verdict of a temperate historian does not differ substantially from that of Mr. Lloyd George. 'Strategically,' says Mr. Crutwell, 'nothing whatever had been accomplished [at Passchendaele]. On the contrary, the enlarged salient, with its tip at Passchendaele, where an advance of about five miles had been made, was even more unwieldy than of old. All our gains had to be evacuated at a stroke next April, when the second great German thrust took the enemy forward beyond Bailleul.' 
The hecatombs of the Somme and Passchendaele had their rivals in some of the other long-drawn-out battles of that war. At Verdun the French losses were 362,000 and the German 336,000.  In the great German offensive of the spring of 1918 we lost nearly 240,000 men and the French 92,000; the German losses were 348,000.  During the whole war the military deaths amounted to: for the British Empire, over 900,000; for France, 1,300,000; for Germany, 2,300,000; for Austro-Hungary, 1,530,000; for Russia, 1,700,000.  The total military losses in 1914-18
1 D. Lloyd George, op. cit. p. 2219. 2 Ibid., p. 2234. 3 Ibid., p. 2251.
4 C. R. M. F. Crutwell, A History of the Great War, 1914-8, p. 442.
5 Official History, Military Operations, France and Belgium, March-April, 1918, p. 490. 6 Ibid.
7 S. Dumas and K. O. Vedel-Petersen, Losses of Life Caused by War. Copenhagen, English translation, Clarendon Press, 1926, pp. 137-142. The authors state that the Russian losses are unknown; the figure of 1,700,000 is given by Mr. Crutwell, op. cit., p. 631. He gives the total of military deaths for the British Empire as 947,023 (p. 630). This is close enough to the figure of 947,364, given by Lord Riddell in his Diary, p. 336.
were about eleven millions, of which the military deaths amounted to eight millions. 
Before the present war ends we may have to endure human losses comparable to those of 1914-18. The fighting in Russia has already produced its massive harvest of death. We, too, may have terrible casualty lists to record in the land encounters which have already begun in Europe and in which many tens of thousands of lives will be lost before the end. I may be told: You spoke too soon. Not so: nothing yet to come can alter the fact that in the first four years of war we in Britain have not seen a generation slaughtered and mutilated on the appalling scale to which we became accustomed in 1914-18. There has been in the west, at least, no such shedding of blood as there was then. That which is, alas! to come—it must come if the German armies are to be broken—will have its parallel, one may expect and hope, in the toll of lives which we had to pay in the final stages of the war of 1914-18 and which were the price of a victory towards the winning of which our earlier sacrifices contributed but little.  We have escaped at least the holocausts of 1915-17. We have come without having to endure them to a stage in the conflict corresponding to that which we reached in the summer of 1918. By our air raids and our blockade we have hurt Germany at least as much as we had then. We have done so at a cost in British lives almost negligible in comparison with that which we had to pay before we entered on the final round in 1918. Nor should we forget how
1 J. Dumas and K. O. Vedeb Petersen, op. cit. p. 133.
2 That, it is evident from the extracts quoted from Mr. Churchill's and Mr. Lloyd George's books, is the view which eminent statesmen would endorse. A different view is held by others; see, for instance, the defence of our tactics at Passchendaele in Sir Douglas Haig's Command, pp. 20-26, by Mr. G. A. B. Dewar and Lieut. Colonel J. H. Boraston.
greatly the use of our air arm and that of the United States Army has reduced the volume of the casualties which the conquest of Tunisia would otherwise have entailed upon the ground forces there. Again and again the airmen blasted the way for the advance of their comrades below. There can be no question whatever but that, both strategically and tactically, air action has contributed very materially to keeping the level of the human losses far below that of the last great war.
The prophets of calamity who fixed their thoughts on the menace of the air, almost to the exclusion of everything else, were really the slaves to an idée fixe. They could not rid themselves of the idea that air warfare must mean necessarily the end of civilisation if war were allowed to come at all. It was on the menace of the bomber that their thoughts centred. War would apparently not be so bad if that particular instrument were banished. In the famous speech of 10 November, 1932, already quoted, the confident assertion was made that in the next war 'European civilisation will be wiped out . . . and by no force more than by that force'—that is, by the force of the air. It was for that reason that strenuous efforts were made at Geneva in 1932 to abolish air forces altogether. Incidentally, it was apparently forgotten at Geneva that the practical question was not the abolition of all air forces but the implementing of an already decreed abolition of a particular air force. The sole danger of a major European war was known even then to arise from a re-armed Germany; and Germany had been forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles to possess an air force. Civilisation was threatened, in, fact, not because the younger men hesitated to take a new decision but because the older men, the men in power, were afraid to enforce a decision reached in 1919.
It is amazing in the retrospect to read the forecasts which were made before September, 1939, of the cataclysmic horrors which air warfare was to bring upon the world. There was loss of perspective, of balance in the preview, an almost hysterical self-surrender to the emotion which it evoked, an inverted kind of wishful-thinking in which everything that was most horrible was assumed to be fated. Cities were to be wiped out; there were nice calculations of the precise tonnage of high explosives that would be needed entirely to destroy towns of varying sizes. No doubt a few well-informed people knew, and said, that the popular view was a sensational one, not likely to be confirmed by the sober fact. The vast majority held firmly to the belief that air warfare would mean the pentecost of calamity, that the slaughter and mutilation which it would necessarily involve would surpass anything ever recorded in the sombre annals of war. The truth is that aircraft were credited with a capacity for destruction which they did not possess when the war began. Even after it began one finds the same kind of exaggeration of the results which bombardment from the air could achieve.
On 19 September, 1940, when the attack on London was at its height, Mr. Joseph Kennedy, the American Ambassador in London, told Mr. George Bilainkin that the Germans were 'not using a twentieth or, thirtieth of their bomber strength against Britain. Air war has not really begun.'  Twenty to thirty times the number of bombers then being used for raiding this country would amount to some 10,000 to 15,000 aircraft. The possibility of an even greater armada of the air being launched against us was foretold by another well-known American. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson wrote in 1940: 'A horrified world
1 George Bilainkin, Diary of a Diplomatic Correspondent, 1942.
may well be treated to the spectacle of at least 20,000 'planes, flying in great waves, one after the other, and at different levels, ranging far and wide in strict formation, each with a particular objective, each objective to be reduced by a smashing and overwhelming attack and obliterated into kinship with the dust. It could be such a concentration of air power as the world has never seen. Its unrelenting attack is likely to go on continuously day and night, to be followed by simultaneous invasion of two million men from every bay and inlet on the coast of the North Sea, the Channel and the Atlantic, using every type of ship and barge and motor boat that will carry a handful of men. . . . The British would probably be outnumbered in the air not five to one but fifty to one.' 
Now, it is as certain as that these words are being penned that it would have been utterly impossible for Germany to send over Britain more than one-tenth of the lowest number of bombers quoted by Mr. Kennedy and Major Nicholson (10,000, 15,000 and 20,000). Anyone who disputes this statement is, I submit, unacquainted with the meaning of first-line or operational air strength. The two eminent Americans were, in fact, talking arrant nonsense; and they were very far indeed from being the only eminent persons, here and in America, to whose utterances a similar criticism would be perfectly appropriate. Wilder statements have probably been made about air warfare than about any other subject under the sun. They were particularly wild when they referred to the disasters which bomber aircraft were likely to cause 'in the next war'.
Air power is 'news', 'hot news', only when it is portrayed as a portent of lurid magnitude and of almost limit-
1 M. Wheeler-Nicholson, America Can Win, 1941, pp. 139-141.
less capacity for evil. It is something to write about then, to splash over front pages, to give banner headlines to, to dilate upon with gusto. The air power which can really work wonders is something much less sensational, less arresting, more coldly scientific in a terrible way that is at times not a very interesting way. It is a reality, not a bogey, not the sort of 'monstrous crow as black as a tar-barrel' which 'frightened both the brothers so they quite forgot their quarrel'.
Now, that was precisely what many well-meaning people conceived air power to be before this war began. They wanted it as a bogey. They saw in it a power of appalling potentiality as a deterrent, a kind of withheld thunderbolt the mere menace of which would make nations hesitate to go to war. That they should hesitate was, of course, an excellent thing and the aim pursued was a laudable one; but it had some unfortunate results. It was one of the reasons why the question of what aircraft might and might not do in war was never definitely settled.)
That is another of the matters which will probably strike the future historian as a not unimportant item in the long list of the failures of statesmanship during the period between the two great wars. Here was a new weapon whose employment required to be regulated at least as much as did that of artillery on land or the guns of warships. It was not regulated. There were rules, internationally agreed, for war on land and sea. There were none for air warfare. An attempt was made, indeed, and rules were drafted by a Commission of Jurists at The Hague in 1922-23, but they were never embodied in a convention. When the war began in 1939, the air arm, alone among the arms of war, went into action without a stitch of regulations to its back. Those who had the duty of directing it were left without guidance to find their way through the tangled thicket formed by the intricate and abstruse body
of international law which relates to the conduct of war. To suppose that the officers of a fighting Service can easily pick out of the general principles of that law rules to govern their action in any given case is to display a lamentable ignorance of its complexity.
I write with some feeling on this subject. Probably more than anyone else in this country, I advocated in season and out of season the putting of our house in order in this matter of the regulation of air warfare. What I actually proposed did not and does not matter. What was important was that something should be done to clear up the chaotic condition in which the whole law of bombardment was left.  Nothing was done, and the omission was, in part at least, the result of a determination that nothing should be done.
In 1927 the late Lord Thomson, who had already filled the office of Secretary of State for Air and was to do so again in 1929-30, put on record his views on the subject of the regulation of warfare. They were views of general applicability, but actually he was evidently thinking of air warfare, for he was dealing (quite fairly and courteously) with my proposals as outlined in my Air Power and War Rights. He spoke of 'the efforts of well-intentioned people who . . . tried to subordinate it [war] to a legal system, to limit its scope, to prevent its worst atrocities, in short, to civilise and bring it up to date.' In so doing, he held, they have 'helped to perpetuate an international crime'.
1 This was described in my paper on 'The Chaotic State of the International Law Governing Bombardment' in The Royal Air Force Quarterly for January, 1938. I had previously dealt with some aspects of the same subject in an article entitled 'The Lawless Arm' in The Army Quarterly for October, 1935. My books also contained discussions of the question.
'Homicide, arson, the destruction of property and trespass are criminal offences, and war is a combination of these illegalities. . . . Instead of trying to control, restrain, mitigate or civilise modern warfare, the more logical course is to outlaw war itself and make aggression illegal. This is admittedly a counsel of perfection, but it does not compromise with evil and offers a real solution towards which humanity can strive.' 
Now, that attitude to the regulation of warfare is a perfectly tenable one. The point which I want to emphasise is that it is not the attitude which the civilised nations have taken to war by land and sea. They have entered into international agreements regulating both these kinds of war. They have not done so in regard to war in the air. The difference of treatment is largely the result, I am convinced, of a (sometimes sub-conscious) feeling that air warfare is not altogether on the same ethical plane as war on land or sea, that it is not quite canonical, not quite respectable, that it is a sort of outlaw warfare, a kind of warfare which, like certain social evils, decent people do well to ignore. That conception of air warfare has been contributed to, perhaps, by the tendency of senior members—a minority only, but an influential one—of the two other Services to talk in rather disparaging terms of the methods by which they believe the air arm seeks to achieve its results—methods which are sometimes stigmatised as amounting to 'frightfulness'.  But over and above such petty misrepresentation there is undoubtedly a popular disposition to regard air warfare as the least tolerable of the three categories of warfare. The differentiation against it was natural enough if the initial assumption that it was
1 Lord Thomson, Air Facts and Problems, pp. 34-5.
2 'Frightfulness', said Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond in a lecture delivered at the Royal United Service Institution in 1923 and reproduced in his National Policy and Naval Strength, p. 187, 'appears to be a fundamental principle in the air.'
destined to be the destroyer of civilisation in any event was accepted. On that supposition the only course was to abolish it altogether, not to try to 'civilise' it. But the result was not altogether that which was expected.
The purpose in view was not achieved in so far as the nations were not in fact scared by the bogey. They did go to war after all. It is true that for many months after the war began the principal belligerents hesitated to use their air arms against one another's metropolitan territories, but the reason for that, as is explained in Chapter III, was not solely that the bogey was operating in (so to speak) second gear. And the failure to define the legitimate scope of air attack had some other unfortunate results. One was, probably, the judicial murder of the American airmen referred to in Chapter VI, hereafter. It might conceivably have had some influence upon the action of the Japanese Government if it had set its hand to a convention which, inter alia, defined in clear terms the right to resort to strategic bombing. One cannot speak with any certainty upon such a point, and the fact that the Tokyo Government was a party to the Prisoners of War Convention, 1929, which also should have protected the airmen, cuts the other way. Nevertheless, the double assurance might have had some effect. There would have been such a double assurance if a convention had been in existence containing a provision similar to that in Article 2 of the Convention on Naval Bombardment signed at The Hague in 1907. This Article provides that a naval commander who uses his ships' guns to destroy military objectives in an undefended port or town 'incurs no responsibility for any unavoidable damage which may be caused by a bombardment under such circumstances'. It was not possible, however, for the American airmen to point to any such charter of their rights.
The fundamental mistake of those who made air warfare a bogey was that they looked at it always from one side—the potential enemy's side; and for us in Britain that was to look at it from the side of the likely aggressor. It would have been better to have regarded it also from the side of the victim of aggression. So regarded, air power was and is not the destroyer but the saver of civilisation. We are beginning to understand that fact at last. Whether air power, unaided, can bring about a decision in our favour in the present struggle is, for this purpose, an immaterial question. Those who think that it can may be right or they may be wrong. Time will tell.
What can be claimed without fear of contradiction is that air power is an absolutely essential factor in the combination which will give us victory; and at the very heart of air power there stands the strategic offensive. The matter was placed in the proper perspective by Mr. Churchill in his great speech at Ottawa on 30 December, 1941. 'While an ever-increasing bombing offensive against Germany will remain one of the principal methods of ending this war,' he said, 'it is not the only one which growing strength enables us to take into account.'
This view of the position is accepted now, it seems, by all who are not blind to realities. It has been endorsed in quarters which cannot be suspected of undue addiction to extremist or doctrinaire modes of thought. Leading articles in the Press reflect the informed re-action to it. 'We are thoroughly committed to the large-scale bombing of Germany as part of our war-winning strategy,' said the Daily Mail on 18 September, 1942, 'and there can be no question that so far the policy is paying good dividends by weakening the enemy's productive power and dislocating his daily life. It is doubtful whether this use of the air
weapon by itself could win the war, but it is certain that we could not win without it.'
'There are still those who confuse themselves with the parrot question: Can the war be won by bombing Germany?' wrote the Daily Telegraph on 19 September, 1942. 'No one of knowledge and judgment ever thought of speculating on such a possibility. The reason why the United Command must bomb Germany with all the power that can be provided is that without such a sustained and cumulative air offensive the war cannot be won at all.' That conclusion will not be disputed by anyone who preserves a sense of proportion. It is a conclusion which even if it stood alone, and it does not stand alone, would suffice to show that the bomber is in fact the saver of civilisation.