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The Three Choices

A nation which is proposing to build up its air strength has a choice of three possible lines to follow. It can decide to have an air force of the kind that is best fitted for use in co-operation with the army. (One may leave naval cooperation out of account for the present purpose.) It can choose, instead, to have one intended pre-eminently for independent action, that is, one which is most effectively used outside and beyond the zones of land-encounter. It can also decide to have an air force part of which is to be employed co-operatively and part independently. Different types of aircraft, different organisations of command and different training techniques being needed for these different kinds of employment, the third choice is possible only when the air establishment which it is proposed to bring into being is one of very considerable magnitude and diversity, both in matériel and personnel: It is air strength such as a Great Power would alone be able to develop that is here in question. A minor Power's problem and solution would be different and of less importance.

Adopting the usual nomenclature (though it is not an altogether satisfying one), one may say that the choice lies between having:

A. An air force that is predominantly tactical, or

B. One that is predominantly strategical, or

C. One that has both tactical and strategical components of worth-while dimensions.


To anticipate for the purpose of clarifying my argument, I will begin by dealing with a situation which can be regarded as the result of the choice denoted 'C' above,

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although strictly it is a situation which emerged only at a date much later than those at which the choices at 'A' and 'B' had been made respectively by Germany and by Britain.

Army Co-operation in North Africa

By 1943 we in Britain had built up such a powerful air establishment that we were in a position to use air power both tactically and strategically with an effectiveness and on a scale which it is not national vanity to claim had never been attained before. We were conducting a long-range offensive against the war-industries and communications of Germany and Italy, and the powerful flotillas of heavy bombers which we had created for this purpose were operating from bases both in Britain and in Africa. In addition, we were able to spare bombers for operational duties directly connected with the campaign against the submarines—duties which included attacks on U-boats, the convoying of merchant vessels in the middle reaches of the north Atlantic, and the mining of terminal waters through which the submarines had to pass on their voyages to and from their hunting grounds. At the same time we had gradually built up our other categories of aircraft, trained the necessary pilots and members of air-crews, and so on, to such a peak that we were in the enviable position of being able to provide for our armies an overflowing measure of air support such as probably no armies had ever had before. That achievement was a very remarkable one, for our Air Force was in some degree a newcomer in the field of tactical work. How splendidly it did the work has been freely acknowledged both by the military leaders and by other authorities. The communiqué issued at General Eisenhower's headquarters on the evening of 6 May, 1943, referred to the 'magnificent support of our air forces' during the offensive operations which the

[p. 26]

1st Army and the 2nd United States Corps had opened on that morning. They 'blasted a path in advance of the ground forces', it was stated, and had already achieved complete domination of the air. War correspondents were unanimous in declaring that no troops had ever had the advantage of such air cover as the Allied troops had in these operations. 'The mutual understanding between the fighters in the air and on the ground was brought in this campaign to a pitch of 'perfection that we have never hitherto attained,' said Mr. Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 11 May, 1943. The support which the 8th Army had already received from the Desert Air Force in its operations in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania had also been of the highest standard and had been acknowledged in generous terms by General Montgomery. The co-operation-between ground and air arms was again extraordinarily effective in the invasions of Sicily on 10 July and of Calabria on 3 September, and in the operations on the island and the mainland.

The North West African Air Forces were organised in the spring of 1943 into Tactical, Strategical and Coastal Air Forces. The principle of the organisation was sound and logical; it carried no implication; however, that the work of each of the three forces would be bulk-headed from that of the other two. In practice their spheres of duty overlapped. That was inevitable in the circumstances. It was admitted, indeed, in the official reports. The North African communiqué of 9 May, 1943, for instance, stated that bombers of the Tactical Air Force and fighter-bombers of the Strategical Air Force had carried out a heavy attack upon the airfield on Pantellaria Island. Frequent references appear in the communiqués to the operations conducted by both forces against shipping in the neighbouring waters and against enemy concentrations and gun positions in the Tunisian theatre. While the raid-

[p. 27]

ing of objectives such as the airfields in Sardinia or the harbours and airfields in Sicily and Italy would have fallen naturally to the Strategic Air Force, there was here also some overlapping, and only in the specialised tactical work of the 'tank-busters' (Hurricane 11D fighters with 40 mm. cannons) were the spheres of the two forces clearly defined. It was less easy to demarcate their domains in many instances, and that was indeed one of the chief merits of the system. It allowed the units of the one force to be switched over as the need arose to duties which were strictly the preserve of the other. The organisation permitted a measure of fluidity or elasticity which would not have been attainable under a more rigid system of the earmarking of air contingents.

Now, the undoubted effectiveness of the co-operation of the Royal Air Force with the ground forces in the campaigns in North Africa is all the more remarkable when one remembers that before the war began the tactical employment of the arm was given in Britain hardly the amount of attention and consideration which it deserved'. Indeed, in our early operations, the ground forces had some reason to complain of the inadequacy of the support which they received in the air. The reason for the comparative failure was largely geographical, but there was some substance in the allegation that we had hot envisaged sufficiently clearly the absolutely indispensable factor of air support in all operations in which troops are engaged against an enemy who is strong in the air. It is perhaps noteworthy that our Army Co-operation Command was formed only on 1 December, 1940, that is, fifteen months after the war had begun.

The Tactical Air Force at Home

The success of the experiment in North Africa led to the creation of a Tactical Air Force in Great Britain itself. On

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14 June, 1943, it was announced that certain measures of re-organisation had been made in the metropolitan Air Force and that the Army Co-operation Command had been merged into a Tactical Air Force designed to work with the army in the field. 'The Organisation of this force,' said the announcement, 'conforms closely with that of the Tactical Air Force under Air Marshal Sir Arthur, Coningham in North Africa.' It would be located in Fighter Command in order to ensure close integration of the work of the Tactical reconnaissance aircraft and light bombers with that of the main fighter force. The commander of the new force was Air Vice-Marshal J. H. D'Albiac.

The announcement marked the completion of the measures which Mr. Churchill had foreshadowed some months before when he stated that steps would be taken to prepare the metropolitan Air Force for work with the army in large-scale operations and that the organisation adopted for this purpose would follow closely that which was proving itself in North Africa. There a force comprising all types of squadrons had been found to be most suitable for direct support of armies in the field, together with the necessary headquarters, maintenance units and signals organisation, and a similar force was accordingly built up from Army Co-operation Command as the nucleus. The new system was tried out in the combined exercises held in England in March, 1943, and was found to work satisfactorily. The placing of the new Force in Fighter Command was calculated to permit the greatest possible degree of flexibility in the operational work on the one hand and the training work on the other.

British Air Organisation before 1939

Germany set herself seriously to build up an air force after Hitler became Reichskanzler in January, 1933. We

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took up her challenge a year or so later. We had, of course, an air force already, but it was more or less a 'token' one. It was utterly inadequate for the needs of a major war. We began to expand it in 1934 and followed up our modest initial programme by a more ambitious one in 1935. In 1936 we re-modelled our organisation of air defence in the light of the new menace. Germany's aggressive intentions had become clear by that date and the new model was one which took account of that most disturbing development. In July, 1936, the former 'Air Defence of Great Britain' Command was broken up and in its place three new operational Commands-Bomber, Fighter and Coastal-were formed. A Training Command was also created. The re-organisation was important and significant. In effect, it traced the pattern of the coming war in the air so far as it was to be waged by Great Britain. From it could be discerned by the eye of faith the unrolling panorama of that mighty effort in the, air which is overshadowing the forces of aggression today.

In the successive schemes of expansion, gradually growing in magnitude, the emphasis was laid, as it soon became apparent, on the bombing counter-offensive as the principal means of meeting the threatened attack, and the provision made for a powerful bomber force was the most noteworthy feature of each of the successive programmes. The number of bomber squadrons which it was proposed to form was almost double that of the fighter squadrons. It was expected that they would operate, as in 1917-18, from French aerodromes, but the likelihood was also foreseen of their being able, in time, to carry out their raids from bases in Britain. At the close of an address given by Major-General R. J. Collins at the Royal United Service Institution on 23 November, 1938, Marshal of the R.A.F. Sir Edward Ellington said in summing up: 'The counter-attack will be largely launched from the home

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aerodromes of the bombers and in the future may be entirely launched from them.' [1]

Germany's Choice

A very different policy was adopted by the builders of the re-created German air force. Their conception of the rôle of the air arm in a future war was in striking contrast with that which had commended itself to Sir Hugh Trenchard and the air strategists upon whom his mantle had descended. The British idea of an air force as the co-equal of the other Services and the possibly predominant partner in warlike ventures in which they would have minor parts to play would have seemed to the German higher strategists little short of heresy. The philosophy of air warfare which inspired our re-organisation of 1936 was wholly alien to their mode of thought. They formed no such functional Commands as we did. Instead, they created a number of Luftflotten—there are five of these now (1943)—organised on a territorial rather than a functional basis and composite rather than specialised in content. There never has been, and there is not, a Bomber Command in Germany. That fact is of great significance.

It has often been suggested that the fundamental error which the Allies made in 1919 was that, by allowing the nucleus of a military force to be maintained in Germany, they neglected an opportunity to break the military tradition of the German people. The result was that a number of able officers of the old school were able to put together by degrees the framework of an army which could be filled in and enlarged as time went on. Among these officers was General Von Seekt, to whom, more than to anyone else, there belongs the credit of having salvaged the wreck of Germany's old army and fitted and re-

1 Journal of the R.U.S.I., February, 1939, p. 69.


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fashioned its broken pieces into a new military structure, which, modest at first, would serve at least as the foundation for a tower of armed strength such as the world had never yet seen. 'It is to Von Seekt that the Germans owe most for having kept alive not only the military machine but the spirit animating it: the spirit of being above the State and of strict cohesion. within itself. . . . His Thoughts of a Soldier are enlightening. "The Army is above parties," he said; but he did not stop there. "The Army is the State," he concludes, and no German knew better than he. It is that conclusion which spells expansionism, for the Army is not a force within the State but the head of a nation in arms in peace time. Conquest by arms is the inevitable goal, for the itch to expand is there.' [1]

That the second World war would not have taken place if the military tradition in Germany had been effectively disrupted after the first is true, no doubt, but that is not the point which I wish to emphasise here. It is rather that the result was to canalise the urge to expansionism in a particular way. The fact that the military caste remained in the saddle had a very important bearing upon the nature of Germany's re-armament in the air. Its effect was that the voice of the General Staff of the army continued to be the dominant note in the counsels of the Reich: 'Colonel Blimp' retained his power, and 'Colonel Blimp' is always and inherently traditionalist and non-responsive to new ideas. For him the German army was the appointed and appropriate instrument, the symbol and manifestation of a German nation in arms. It was by its power that the great Frederick had triumphed. It would be for Frederick's latter-day successors the sharp and trusty blade that would once again carve a path to glory. It would be a new army, modernised and equipped with the latest weapons and devices, but it would still be

1 Ernest Hambloch, Germany Rampant, 1938, pp. 48-9.


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at heart the old army whose story was imperishably inscribed in the nation's annals. One of its weapons would be the aircraft, but it would only be a weapon of a Service which was predominantly the embodiment of German land power. The idea of air power as the rival or equal of land power was beyond the comprehension of soldiers steeped in the philosophy of war which commended itself to German mentality.

Hiller on the Army's Shield

Not the air arm but the mighty German army would be the shield of the Reich. To it would fall the task of keeping the foes of the fatherland far outside the borders of the Germanic realm. That, we know from Mein Kampf, was an object by which Hitler set great store. He wrote:

'Let us imagine the bloody battles of the world war not as having taken place on the Somme, in Flanders, in Artois, in front of Warsaw, Nishni-Novgorod, Kowno and Riga, but in Germany, in the Ruhr, on the Elbe, in front of Hanover, Leipzig, Nuremberg, etc. If such happened, then we must admit that the destruction of Germany might. have been accomplished. . . . If this titanic conflict between the nations developed outside the frontiers of our fatherland not only is all the merit due to the immortal service rendered by our old army but it was also very fortunate for the future of Germany. I am convinced that if things had taken a different course there would no longer be a German Reich today but only German States.' [1]

The second world war has brought to the localities enumerated in this passage misfortunes which the old

1 Mein Kampf, Murphy's translation, London, 1939, p. 547. Hitler seems to have attached little importance to the air arm, but he does refer to it in connection with the threat which 'French aeroplanes and long-range batteries' would constitute for Britain's vital centres. It is evident from what he says that in his view the submarine menace was more serious still. (Ibid., p. 503.)


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Germanic shield has been powerless to avert. Death and destruction have been rained upon them from the skies while German armies stood massively on guard far beyond the frontiers of the Reich. Such catastrophies were the price which Germany had to pay for pinning her faith to military doctrines which were already becoming obsolete.

Tedder on Air Power

The fact is that the Germans have never really understood the meaning of air power. 'They did not understand how to use air power as a weapon of war,' Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder stated in a review of the North African campaign on 15 May, 1943. 'They misused it.' They did not know how to use an air force properly. Four months before, on 9 January, Sir Arthur had said at Cairo: 'We have learned this new kind of warfare and the Americans are learning it. The Hun and the Jap have yet to learn it.' 'Today,' he said, 'Britain alone of the embattled nations can look to a striking force in the air unshackled and untrammelled by parochialism and preconceived ideas, free from glib phrases like "air support" and "fighter assistance"—an Air Force which commands the air.'

The Tethered Air Arm

Sir Arthur Tedder's reference to the Americans is interesting in view of the fact that their air organisation is still, broadly, that which we discarded in 1918. Although it is, there is nevertheless no doubt whatever that the American authorities believe firmly in the strategic use of the air arm. It was not always so. That the air arm should be ancillary and operationally subordinate to the army was the view strongly advocated by the representative of the General Staff of the United States Army when he gave

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evidence before the Dwight Morrow Committee in 1925; the question being considered was whether an autonomous air force should be established in the United States. 'There is no separate responsibility, separate mission or separate theatre of action that can be assigned to such a separate force,' this officer stated. Another officer, Major-General C. P. Summerall, commanding the 2nd Corps Area, testified: 'As far as we are concerned, in war the only object is the enemy's army. If that falls, everything falls. . . . A bombing expedition must therefore be made as something connected with the enemy's armed forces.' There was implicit in this statement a disavowal of the conception of air power in the fullest sense and an affirmation of the doctrine of land-air power, which is a different thing. There is room for both air power, proper, and land-air power in a philosophy of war. 'What is of practical importance is the emphasis placed on the one or on the other.


Land-Air Power and Air Power

In Germany the emphasis was placed on land-air power. In Britain it was placed on air power, with sea-air power as runner-up, land-air power being a rather straggling competitor. The difference was reflected in the composition of the respective air forces, in the organisation of the higher commands, and, above all, in the attitude of the Governments to the master-strategics which the scientific study of air warfare presented. The German air force was an instrument admirably fitted for the execution of the air policy which the German military authorities had adopted. It was an almost ideal arm for co-operation with ground forces. It contained a high proportion of dive-bombers (Junkers 87's) and of transport aircraft (Junkers 52's). Our own air force was weak in these two categories but was superior to the German in the quality (though not

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the quantity of its long-range bombers and its single-seat fighters. Our Wellington was a better heavy bomber than anything which Germany had, and we were definitely ahead of her in the fighter class. She had a fairly good interceptor in the Messerschmitt log, but it was definitely inferior to our Hurricane or Spitfire. In other words, in the two categories which are of prime importance in the waging of air warfare, considered per se, we had the advantage, while Germany had it in those categories which are essential in air operations ancillary to those of ground forces.

The Great Divide of 1918

In Germany, as in Britain, the air force is a separate Service, but it has never been able to free itself from the army's influence to the same extent. Our own air force cut adrift from the army more than twenty-one years before the present war began. The date when it came into being, 1 April, 1918, is an epochal one in the calendar which records the conflict between British air power and German militarist ambition. The other red-letter dates in that calendar are 11 May, 1940, when we opened our strategic air offensive against the Reich, and 27 September, 1940, when Fighter Command won the last of its great victories over the Luftwaffe in the battle of Britain. Perhaps some other dates should be added to this list, those, for instance, in 1935-36 when we conceived the eight-gun monoplane fighter and the big four-engined bomber. None of them had the same importance, however, as the first of all, the date on which the Air Force was formed.

Its creation was an act of faith. Those who worked for a separate Service—and General Smuts was first and foremost in that prescient band—looked far ahead. They cast their minds forward to a time which seemed distant and to some indeed so visionary and shadowy as to be

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beyond the range of profitable calculation. They were wise in their prevision. They grasped the truth that man's mastery of the air has not only made warfare three-dimensional—that is a truism today—but entitles the arm whose path is the third element to claim the place of a co-equal with the historic arms of war.

To split up into three the two Services that existed in 1917 was a daring experiment. The result might well have been disastrous. Instead, the gamble succeeded beyond all expectation. It approved itself in action. The dream of those who worked for, planned and created the third arm was to become a reality sooner than they knew. Within a generation the testing time arrived. The weapon which they forged was tried by fire. It did not fail.

The Battle of Britain

In the autumn of 1940 there was fought one of the decisive battles of history. It was fought not as the older battles on land or sea but in the air. It was waged above the harvest fields of southern England. In the fierce encounters that flashed and flickered, shifted and swayed in the sunlight high above the quiet countryside the Royal Air Force met and broke the massed onset of the most powerful array ever assembled in the air. They did something more than Drake and his fellow captains had done three centuries and more before. They sent a more ruthless and formidable foe reeling back, his hopes of world domination wrecked for ever.

To have failed in that great conflict would have opened the way to a waiting army of invasion. All the preparations had been made for a swift dash across the English Channel. The ships and barges were ready to sail. They waited for one thing only. If their venture was to succeed it was necessary that the Luftwaffe should first have won the temporary command of the air over south-eastern England.

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We all know that it failed in the attempt to win that command. It was Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force which came out of the clash with the right to hoist a whip at the fore.

It is not to strain the probabilities of the case to trace a direct connection between what happened in 194o and what had happened in 1918. The battle of Britain was won because the Royal Air Force had better pilots and better machines than the Luftwaffe. They were better, in all human probability, because there was in existence a system which went as far to ensure as any system could that they were better. They might not have been better if the system had been still that which was in existence in 1917. British equipment was inferior to German during some phases of the first world war; it was so in the early parts of both the years 1916 and 1917. The British air service was not then an autonomous one. It is not fanciful to suggest that it might have been inferior in 1940 if the change of organisation had not taken place in 1918. Those who would challenge such a statement should ponder what Mr. Churchill said in the House of Commons on 10 June, 1941. 'The equipment of our army at the outbreak of war,' he said, 'was of a most meagre and deficient character.' Our anti-aircraft defence on the ground was particularly inadequate. Would the defence in the air have been much better if it too had been the responsibility of a department and a service which had a multitude of competing cares and duties?

The Birth of the Giant Bomber

The result of the re-organisation of 1918 was that the air was assured of its merited place in the scheme of national defence. It became the concern of a department and a Service which could concentrate all thought and energy on this one subject. The change ensured that provision for

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security in this element at least should not be overlooked or allowed to go by default. It enabled 'thinking ahead' to be systematised in the sphere of air defence. That is really why today giant four-engined bombers are tearing the heart out of industrial Germany. Those bombers trace their descent to a brain-wave which came to British experts in 1936, while Germany was thinking only in terms of short-range bombers and particularly of dive-bombers for employment with her powerful mechanised army.

The idea behind 'specification B.12/36' was that when the next war came Britain would need a long-range weight-carrying bomber which could go farther and load a bigger cargo of high explosive in its own bomb-racks than a whole squadron could at that time. This advance was becoming possible as a result of the development of new techniques of construction. Various improvements were being made in the designs and structures of airframes and engines. Much higher wing-loadings were being tried; all-metal stressed skin (or, alternatively, geodetic) construction of fuselages was becoming practicable; more powerful engines, including those of sleeve-valve design, were coming into use. The Stirling, built by Short Brothers to Mr. Arthur Gouge's design, was the answer to the specification; it marked an epoch in the history of heavy bombers. It was followed by the Handley Page Halifax and the Avro Lancaster. The last is the finest heavy bomber in existence, today. but the whole trio is unsurpassed. Germany has nothing approaching them. And they are not the last word in the vocabulary of Britain's effort in the air. Mightier bombers are on the stocks already.

The Germans Become Apprehensive

Perhaps Hitler's famous intuition gave him an inkling of the ultimate significance of what Britain was beginning

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to do in 1935-36. In May of the former year he expressed, his personal apprehension on the subject of long-range bombing to Mr. Edward Price Bell, the well-known press correspondent. 'War has been speeded up too much,' he said, 'and made too overwhelmingly destructive for our geographical limitations. Within an hour—in some instances within forty minutes of the outbreak of hostilities—swift bombing machines would wreak ruin upon European capitals.' [1] There was nothing profound in that remark, but it was significant when made by a man in whose brain there was already being formed a scheme for the domination of Europe. He was afraid of the air. He showed that he was, again, when in 1935 and in 1936 he put forward proposals for the prohibition of bombing outside battle-zones. Again, there was nothing new in the idea of such prohibition. It was simply another instance of the survival of the military code of thought. It reflected the view, put forward in Germany in the last war, that the proper rôle of the air arm is that of long-range artillery.

Aircraft as Long-range Artillery

In that war, General von Hoeppner, then the head of the German air service, has put it on record, the view which commended itself to the military hierarchy was that 'the weapons admitted by international law as being in accordance with the usages of land warfare should be employed against fortresses and important military places in the actual theatre of war (Kriegsschauplatz), that is, the zone in which the armies were fighting. We limited ourselves accordingly. England went further. In the autumn of 1914, she destroyed the airship Z.11 in the shed at Düsseldorf, attacked Friedrichshafen, and raided military objectives far from the field of operations. But at that time

1 The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-39. Edited by N. H. Baynes, 1942, Vol. II, p. 1215.


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she showed consideration for the peaceful population. France adopted a different line. On 4 December, 1914, she attacked the entirely undefended town of Freibourg-im-Breisgau, eighty kilometres behind the lines, and thus for the first time carried the terrors of air warfare into an entirely peaceful territory.' [1]

The motive behind the recurrent German attempts to have the sphere of action of aircraft confined to the battle-zones is clear enough. The kind of aggressive war which the German General Staff has forever in mind is essentially a war of mass-attack which, to be successful, demands an unceasing flow of armaments to support it. Interrupt or dislocate the supply of munitions, and you go far to bring the great juggernaut of invasion to a halt. The world can be made safe for war-lords, in fact, only if the devil's cauldrons in which they brew their lethal mixtures are safe-guarded from an enemy's attack. That has been why the idea of fighting on foreign, not Germanic, soil has always been a cardinal idea in German strategy. And it was here that the thought of the war in the third dimension came to disturb and alarm the plotters of the new war of aggression.

The German Attempt to Restrict Bombing

The Ruhr and the Rhineland are the homes of Germany's heavy war-industries, and they are both areas which are particularly exposed to attack from the air. The restriction on bombing which the Germans tried to read into international law in 1914-18 (though their practice then hardly conformed to their precept) and which in 1935 and 1936 they proposed, as stated above, should be made the subject of an international agreement, would have suited Germany admirably. It would have protected the Ruhr, the Rhineland and other centres of German

1 Von Hoeppner, Deutschlands Krieg in der Luft, 1920, p. 21.


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industries, while it would not have prevented the German air force from bombing objectives in areas in .which the German army was operating. It would thus not have saved Warsaw, Rotterdam and Belgrade from the savage attacks which they sustained in 1939-41 and which are by themselves sufficient to show that the motive of humanity had no part in the German proposal. On the other hand, acceptance of that proposal would have safeguarded Essen, Duisburg and scores of other armament centres in Germany. The making of the proposal was; in fact, an exceedingly crafty manœuvre, undertaken for the purpose of securing a military advantage.

For that and the other reasons, hereafter given, I am personally convinced that the proposal, was seriously meant, that is, that it was intended to be accepted. I can not subscribe to the view that Hitler brought it forward in 1935 and 1936 with his tongue in his cheek; not in the least because he was incapable of doing so, but simply because it was unquestionably in his interest to have such a restriction accepted. He was scared of the possible effect of a bombing offensive upon Germany's war effort and the morale of the German population. He would infinitely have preferred to fight out the war in another way, a way that was not our way but was his way. He did not want our kind of war. That is why it is right and proper that he should get our kind of war from now to the end.

So little did he relish the idea of long-distance raiding that he initiated no attack of this kind in the first ten months or more of the war (see the following chapter for the facts). The German air force was then the most powerful in the world. Its bombers may riot have been, individually, as good as ours, but there were more than twice as many of them; and our anti-aircraft defences were notoriously weak in the early part of the war. Then, if ever, would have been the time to launch massed air attacks on

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Britain. No such attacks came. After Poland had been crushed we fully expected the weight of the German blow in the air to fall on us: It did not fall. Why? The explanation was really simple. (I am not being 'superior'; I was as much at sea as anyone about the reasons for 'the lull in the air'.) It was that to have bombed this country otherwise than in connection with an attempted landing here would have been, in the German view, a misuse of the air arm, a mis-appropriation of it to a purpose which it was not intended to fulfil. It would have been militarily inexpedient; no question of ethical or humanitarian inhibition came into the matter. It was simply that the role of the strategic air offensive would have been out of character in the drama of Germanic air warfare.





One thing is certain, and it is a thing which should be made clear, for it is commonly misunderstood: the bombing of Warsaw or of Rotterdam was not in parallel with the bombing of London. An American journalist and editor has written: 'In the month of September [1940] Hitler failed to follow up his initial advantage and lost his opportunity to win the kind of Blitzkreig that took Poland and Norway and Holland and Belgium for him. . . . From now on he must find some other way to win this infamous war.' [1] This statement betrays a lack of appreciation of the real position. The attack upon London was not Blitzkreig. Blitzkreig is the combination of swift mechanised onslaughts in the air and on the ground. It is a technique of attack which leaves the assailant in possession of the objective. Now, air attack alone could never have left London in the hands of the enemy. If Hitler had gone on bombing London from that time to this he would never have conquered London.


1 Ralph Ingersoll, Report on England, 1941, p. 19.



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When Warsaw and Rotterdam were bombed, German armies were at their gates. The air bombardment was an operation of the tactical offensive. It was therefore, for the Germans, 'according to Cocker', 'Cocker' here being a standard of military expediency alone. Purblind, the Germans thought that they could get away with these very brutal bombardments, just because the bombers were operating with an investing army, and still maintain the de facto ban upon the bombing of objectives outside the battle-zone. They were soon undeceived. They are, au fond, stupid people on the whole.

They showed their stupidity when they kept on harping, once the raids on London had begun, on the retaliatory nature of the attacks on the city. Again and again the German official reports emphasised the reprisal element in the action of the Luftwaffe. They kept screaming, in effect: We are hitting you because you hit us first. If you stop bombing us, we'll stop bombing you. That, too, was the recurrent note in Hitler's periodical denunciations of our air offensive. He added to his diatribes a good deal of sob-stuff about war on women and children—as if the, German airmen had never machine-gunned the pitiable refugees crowding the roads in France. Here are a number of extracts from Hitler's speeches:

Hitler on the British Air Offensive

In a speech at the opening of the Winter Relief Campaign on 4 September, 1940, he stated that the British could not fly over the Reich by day and therefore came by night, when they dropped their bombs indiscriminately and without plan on civilian residential quarters, farms and buildings. For three months he had not replied to these raids, thinking they would stop, but now the British would know 'we are giving our answer night after night'. 'We will erase their cities—for every thousand pound of

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bombs, 150, 180, yes 200 thousand. . . .' The rest of the sentence was drowned in a storm of applause. [1]

On 9 November, 1940, Hitler stated at Munich that the German air force had made no night raids on Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium or France. 'Then, suddenly, Mr. Churchill had bombs dropped on the German civil population. I waited in patience, thinking "The man is mad; for such action could only lead to Britain's destruction," and I made my plan for peace. Now I am resolved to fight it out to the last.' 'It was the greatest military folly of all time that Mr. Churchill committed in attempting to fight with the weakest of all his weapons.'

On 31 December, 1940, Hitler addressed to the National Socialist Party a New Year Proclamation in which he again stated that the British had bombed German cities for three and a half months before reprisal action was taken. In May England began her attacks on Freiburg. Now, since the middle of September, she must have realised that it was nothing but humane feelings which had prevented an earlier reply to 'the Churchill crimes'. For every bomb ten, or if necessary a hundred, would be dropped by the German air force.

In a speech to the Reichstag in the Kroll Opera House, Berlin, on 4 May, 1941, Hitler said: 'Churchill, this amateur strategist, began his night air war. What did he care whether this war meant the destruction of towns, of monuments of culture, of treasures collected by peoples over centuries? Churchill is determined to continue this kind of warfare. We also are resolved to continue and to retaliate a hundredfold, until Britain has got rid of this criminal and his methods.'

1 The text of the passage was published in Germany as follows: Wenn die britische Luftwaffe 2 oder 3 oder 4000 Kilogramm Bomben wirft, dann werfen wir jetzt in einer Nacht 150,000, 180,000, 230,000, 300,000, 400,000 and mehr Kilo! Und wenn sie erklären, sie werden unsere Städte in grossem Masstabe angreifen—wir werden ihre Städte ausradieren!


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There was no specific reference to the air raids in the speech which Hitler made at a meeting of the Nazi Party members and soldiers at Berlin on 30 January, 1942, but the speech was notable for the pitch of vituperation of Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt to which he rose on this occasion. 'This arch-liar,' he said of the former, 'today shows that Britain never was in a position to wage war alone.' 'This gabbler, this drunkard Churchill,' were other polite references to our Prime Minister. 'And then his accomplice in the White House—this mad fool.' Altogether it was a most refreshing performance—no doubt for the speaker and his hearers but certainly for us, because of its implications.

In a speech in the Reichstag on 26 April, 1942, Hitler said: 'Should the idea of bombing civilians increase in Great Britain, I wish to say this before the whole world: "Churchill started the air war in 1940, and then started moaning. From now on I shall return blow for blow, till I have broken this criminal and his works." '

Here I interrupt the Hitlerian flow of words to quote some which Mr. Churchill used in his speech at the County Hall, London, on 14 July, 1941, that is, nine months previously. 'We ask no favour of the enemy. We seek from them no compunction. On the contrary, if tonight the people of London were asked to cast their votes whether a convention should be entered into to stop the bombing of all cities, the overwhelming majority would cry "No, we will mete out to the Germans the measure, and more than the measure, that they have meted out to us".' This statement was greeted with cheers. There is not much moaning about it.

At the opening of the Winter Help Campaign on 30 September, 1942, Hitler said at the Sportpalast, Berlin: 'Apart from the second front, our enemies have another means to carry on the war—bombing of the civilian popu-

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lation. The man who invented the bombing war now declares that the bombing war will increase in violence in the future. In May, 1940, Churchill sent the first bombers against the German civilian population. I warned him then, and I continued to warn him for four months, but in vain. Then we struck hard. When we did so they began weeping and whining. There was talk of barbarity and disgusting inhumanity. A man who, apart from the principal warmonger, Roosevelt, is the main culprit, pretended to be innocent, and today they are again carrying on this bombing war. I should like to say this. This time, too, the time will come when we shall reply.' Very loud cheers acclaimed this threat.

At Munich on a November, 1942, Hitler said: 'Do you think I don't eat my heart out when I think of the British attacks on Germany? We did not drop a single bomb on Paris. [1] Before I attacked Warsaw I five times asked them to capitulate, and only then did I do what is allowed by the rules of war. It is just the same today. I don't forget, I take good note of it all. They will find out in Britain that the German inventive spirit has not been idle, and they will get an answer that will take their breath away.'

Hitler stated in a broadcast from his headquarters on 10 September, 1943: 'Only from the air is the enemy able to terrorise the German homeland. But here, too, technical and organisational conditions are being created which will not only break his terror attacks but which will also enable us to retaliate effectively.'

Hitler's Aim

Various people will draw various conclusions from the selection of utterances given above. Many will say they

1 They did, however, bomb the Citroen works and other objectives in the suburbs. In the raid of 3 June, 1940, on the Paris area 254 people (including 195 civilians) were killed and 652 (including 545 civilians) injured. (Alexander Werth, The Last Days of Paris, 1940, p. 127.)


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were merely the hysterical screams of a neuropath who did not mean what he said. I take leave to disagree. I can read them in one way only, and that is that, whatever Hitler wanted or did not want, he most assuredly did not a want the mutual bombing to go on. He had not wanted it ever to begin. He wanted it, having begun, to be called off. That, I am firmly convinced, was the aim behind all his frantic bellowings and all his blather about attacks on the civil population. He knew that, in the end, our air offensive, if it did not win the war for us, would certainly prevent Germany from winning it. That that and nothing else was his motive is shown by other happenings also.

One was the unanimity with which the chorus of Press and radio in Germany plugged the theme-song that long-distance bombing is useless and that the proper place for the air arm is the vicinity of the battle-zone. A pseudo-British station was rigged to swell the chorus. It spoke as if from Britain and debated gravely, and always with adverse verdict, the question whether it was really worth 'our' while to go on with the air offensive. Unfortunately, the German propagandists were able to count upon a certain amount of support in their campaign from within this country of free speech. That it was the support of only a tiny fraction of the population was shown when, on 29 April, 1942, Mr. Rhys Davies, a Pacifist Member of Parliament, questioned the Secretary of State for Air about the recent raid on Lübeck and implied in a supplementary question that the air offensive should be stopped. There was a resounding cheer throughout the House of Commons when Sir Archibald Sinclair replied: 'The best way to prevent this destruction is to win the war as quickly as possible.' A few weeks later, on 16 June, another Socialist Member, Mr. R. R. Stokes, was asking about the recent 'thousand-bomber' raids and their utility. Mr. Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister, declined to discuss

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the question with him. The following extract from the official report is interesting as showing where the sympathies of the House (and, it may be added, of the country) lay.

'Mr. Ellis Smith: Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that these well-organised raids have won the admiration of the whole people?

'Mr. Stokes: Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a substantial minority which considers indiscriminate raiding of this kind highly immoral?

'Mr. Evelyn Walkden: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the rest of the people of the country admire the Royal Air Force?

'Mr. Attlee: My hon. Friend probably more accurately represents the views of these people than the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes).'

Nothing daunted, Mr. Stokes returned to the charge on 27 May, 1943. After the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, had informed him in reply to the original question that we were not going to be diverted from our policy of bombing the Axis war potential by neutral or other representations, Mr. Stokes asked whether there was not an ever-growing volume of opinion in this country which considered the 'indiscriminate bombing of civilian centres both morally wrong and strategic lunacy'. Mr. Attlee replied: 'No, there is no indiscriminate bombing. (Cheers.) As has been repeatedly stated in the House, the bombing is of those targets which are most effective from the military point of view.' (Cheers.) Another Member asked if Mr. Attlee realised that his answer would be appreciated by all sensible people in this country.

Dr. C. E. M. Joad's View

Unwittingly, and in all sincerity, writers in the Press were also inclined in a few exceptional instances to play

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Hitler's game for him. A fair example of the kind of arguments relied upon is to be found in an article contributed to a Sunday newspaper by Dr. C. E. M. Joad, well known to thousands of listeners as a member of the B.B.C. Brains Trust. His attack was on night-bombing, but that in the circumstances meant all bombing of objectives in Germany by our Air Force: as, indeed, Dr. Joad implied in what he said. His case was that night bombing was not only inhumane but was not even a war-winning method. Its effect was not to weaken but to strengthen the morale of the people attacked. Moreover, it was bad policy for us. 'The Germans have nearer bases. They still have, we are assured, more planes. They have a smaller area to bomb. Germany is a perimeter of a fan of which we are the handle. Is it quite certain that we can do more damage to their perimeter than they do to the concentrated handle?' The able correspondent of the newspaper which published Dr. Joad's article [1] appended a note to it contesting the statement that the Luftwaffe could hurt Britain more than the Royal Air Force could hurt Germany. The effective answer to Dr. Joad is, indeed, that the War Cabinet has evidently arrived at a different conclusion. It has done so in the light of the wealth of information at the call of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Directorate of Intelligence at the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and other sources and channels not available to Dr. Joad. A difficult question of operational policy cannot be settled by the light of pure reason.

The Meaning of Air Power

More nonsense has been talked and written about air power than, probably, any other subject connected with warfare. It has been particularly nonsensical when the

1 Sunday Dispatch, 9 November, 1941.


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speaker or writer has thought it incumbent upon herself or himself to dilate upon the inhumanity of the air offensive. In Chapter V I deal at some length with the assertion or innuendo that what that offensive really amounts to is the slaughter and mutilation of enemy civilians. The quotations made in the present chapter from Hitler's speeches and from other sources have a bearing on the arguments in Chapter V. The purpose of the present chapter is, however, to show, and illustrate, the nature of the difference between tactical and strategical bombing and the practical results of that difference as they emerged in the present struggle. There was really a clash between conflicting. conceptions of air power, the British and the German. We, it is legitimate, and only human, to claim, made the right choice and Germany the wrong. To cover up that mistake the Germans have chosen to misrepresent our use of the air arm as not only a diversion of it from its proper purpose but as a barbarous war against the civil population. Actually, our kind of air warfare was far more logical than the German and at least as justifiable from the ethical angle. From some of the German outbursts one would think that it amounted merely to dumping high explosives and incendiaries from the upper reaches of the air upon sleeping towns. That was a grossly distorted picture of the reality. Lord Trenchard put the position in its true perspective in a speech which he delivered at Winchester on 15 May, 1943. He said:

'The word "raid" is inadequate to describe the attacks by our bombers on Germany. I call them battles. They are the Battle of the Ruhr. This great force of night bombers forces its way through terrific anti-aircraft defences and thousands of guns and night fighters: They are causing havoc among the submarine production centres and assembling yards. They are making the Germans realise the horror of war on their own great cities and towns, and

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interrupting and dislocating the whole civil life of their nation. German war production has suffered enormously, and by it untold casualties have been saved for the United Nations' armies and navies.'

There Lord Trenchard puts his finger on the root of the trouble—the trouble from the Germans' point of view. It was just because our air offensive was, and is, smashing their capacity to make war that they have been, and are, screaming raucous denunciations of it, on the ground, forsooth, of its inhumanity.