From 1942, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command carried out a bombing campaign against Germany in conjunction with the United States Army Air Forces. Together, they played the central role in the strategic bombing of Germany in the Second World War.

Context

After the British retreat from Dunkirk in 1940, the only way for the Allies to hit back at Germany directly was by long-range strategic bombing. The theories around strategic bombing were developed in the inter-war years. Disrupting the industrial production of weapons and wearing down the morale of the German population were believed to be important for the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. The Bomber Command’s role was to attack the enemy’s own military strength by targeting bases, troops and industries.

The Bomber Offensive

From the summer of 1940, the RAF’s small bomber force was launching night raids on Germany. The strategy known as ‘area bombing’ ordered Bomber Command to target industrial areas and the morale of the industrial workers. Surveys a year later found only 30 percent of missions found their way to their intended target mainly due to the difficulty of navigating at night. Air Marshal Arthur Harris, known as 'Bomber' Harris, was the head of Bomber Command during this period. He said ‘the average crew in average weather could not find their way to the target’.

Early 1942 saw the introduction of technological advances for the RAF. New navigational systems were developed that helped guide the stream of bombers onto the target. More advanced four-engine bombers were coming into service, particularly the Avro Lancaster and Halifax. In May 1942, Harris launched his first ‘thousand bomber raid’ against Cologne. There was a firm belief that through a combination of improved aircraft like the Lancaster and Halifax and better navigational aids, Bomber Command could knock Germany out of the war. Just more than 1,000 bombers took part in the raid with devastating effect on mainly civilian installations.

From August 1942, three-and-a-half years of bombing missions pounded Germany night after night. If the weather was good up to 800 aircraft could be sent against a target. If the weather was not suitable for bombing occasionally a few aircraft would be sent over the industrial areas to keep the air raid sirens sounding and keep the war workers up all night. A series of huge raids on Berlin that promised to knock Germany out of the war saw more than 1,000 RAF aircraft and 7,000 aircrew lost.

Throughout this time, there were other specialist operations including ‘precision strike’ attacks. The famous Dam Busters Raid in May 1943 saw 617 Squadron launch a raid on the dams surrounding the Ruhr Valley, Germany to flood the industrial area.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Runnymede Memorial, United Kingdom, bears the names of more than 20,290 Commonwealth airman who died during the Second World War and have no known grave. They were lost in the skies above Britain, northern Europe and the surrounding seas and oceans.

Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany, contains the graves and memorials of some 7,670 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen, of whom more than 170 remain unidentified. More than 3,910 served with various air forces of the Commonwealth.

Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany, contains the graves and memorials of more than 3,330 Second World War Commonwealth servicemen, of whom more than 150 remain unidentified. More than 2,880 served with various air forces of the Commonwealth.