Winston Churchill on Strategic Bombing

Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#1
Memo from Churchill to the Chief of Air Staff, 7 October 1941, talking about RAF plans for a strategic bombing campaign against Germany:

"The Air Staff would make a mistake to put their claim too high. Before the war we were greatly misled by the pictures they painted of the destruction that would be wrought by air raids. This is illustrated by the fact that 250,000 beds were actually provided for air-raid casualties, never more than 6,000 being required. This picture of air destruction was so exagerated that it depressed the statesmen responsible for the pre-war policy and played a definite part in the desertion of Czechoslovakia in August 1938. Again, the Air Staff, after the war had begun, taught us sedulously to believe that if the enemy acquired the Low Countries, to say nothing of France, our position would be impossible owing to the air attacks. However, by not paying too much attention to such ideas we have found quite a good means of keeping going."

A couple of ideas that we could talk about:

1. Did the British and French surrender at Munich, in part, because they were afraid of Guernica-style air raids?

2. Why did the British invest so many resources into their strategic bombing campaign if they were already skeptical of its results in 1941, before the bombing campaign really got going?
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
18,039
SoCal
#2
2. Why did the British invest so many resources into their strategic bombing campaign if they were already skeptical of its results in 1941, before the bombing campaign really got going?
Just a guess, but maybe they wanted to show the Soviet Union that they were doing something. That way, the Soviets would have been less likely to make a separate peace with the Nazis.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,693
Stockport Cheshire UK
#3
A couple of ideas that we could talk about:

1. Did the British and French surrender at Munich, in part, because they were afraid of Guernica-style air raids?
Yes.
The fact that Chamberlain had been informed by his military advisers that British air defences were woefully inadequate did play a major part in his decision making. In 1939 the info that the air defences were in a far better shape also played a role in his decision to support Poland
2. Why did the British invest so many resources into their strategic bombing campaign if they were already skeptical of its results in 1941, before the bombing campaign really got going?
It was the only way the British had to strike back at Germany directly
 
Jul 2016
9,064
USA
#4
1. Did the British and French surrender at Munich, in part, because they were afraid of Guernica-style air raids?
The British and French didn't surrender at Munich. They used a diplomatic means to avoid starting a war they were grossly unprepared for. Part of the fear that Great Britain faced was that its air defenses were knowingly inadequate, so London and other cities would be wide open to an attack.

2. Why did the British invest so many resources into their strategic bombing campaign if they were already skeptical of its results in 1941, before the bombing campaign really got going?
What else were they supposed to do? They lost in France, lost in Greece, lost in Crete, were losing in North Africa. Bombing Germany, however ineffective at the time, was the only way to fight back, for the sake of British morale.

Besides that, British bombing at the time the memo was written was largely a joke. Harris didn't take command of Bomber Command until early 1942 and the British didn't promote area bombing until early 1942, and the first "Thousand Bomber Raid" wasn't launched until the spring of '42. As RAF Bomber Command grew in size and capabilities, Harris and Churchill (both of whom were acolytes of the Douhet theories of strategic bombing) believed fully that the new air campaign was very effective, would at the very least greatly shorten the war, or as Harris outright believed that ground campaigns would be unnecessary and that the RAF alone would defeat the Germans.
 

Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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Besides that, British bombing at the time the memo was written was largely a joke. Harris didn't take command of Bomber Command until early 1942 and the British didn't promote area bombing until early 1942, and the first "Thousand Bomber Raid" wasn't launched until the spring of '42. As RAF Bomber Command grew in size and capabilities, Harris and Churchill (both of whom were acolytes of the Douhet theories of strategic bombing) believed fully that the new air campaign was very effective, would at the very least greatly shorten the war, or as Harris outright believed that ground campaigns would be unnecessary and that the RAF alone would defeat the Germans.
Exactly my point. The bombing campaign hadn't really started yet and Churchill was already skeptical. I can accept that Churchill supported the bombing campaign as a sop to the Soviets. Churchill was keenly aware of those types of political considerations. But did Churchill really think that strategic bombing would shorten the war? There's no suggestion of that belief in this memo.
 
Jul 2016
9,064
USA
#6
Exactly my point. The bombing campaign hadn't really started yet and Churchill was already skeptical. I can accept that Churchill supported the bombing campaign as a sop to the Soviets. Churchill was keenly aware of those types of political considerations. But did Churchill really think that strategic bombing would shorten the war? There's no suggestion of that belief in this memo.
Not in that memo, no. But in his continued support of Bomber Command, which received a disproportionate allocation of production material, manpower, and other resources, throughout the war.

After the Butt Report in summer 1941 revealed how ineffective strategic bombing was at that point, he at least was no longer was under the impression like Harris remained (and others, especially in the USAAC/F) that bombers would themselves win the war, but he was still a promoter of their use. And it made political sense as such.

They allowed Britain to continue to enact "victories" against mainland Germany, even more ones, which gave Britain more power among the Allies, especially the Soviet Union, where Stalin was constantly harping on Churchill to do more and more. Especially attacking Berlin, Churchill was constantly pressuring Harris to begin raiding it, largely for the message.

With the US entering the war, early on most of the US Army generals wanted to waste no time in preparing an invasion force to land in France and advance on Germany, which Churchill never wanted, at all, under any circumstances. So he was able to divert forces for his Soft Underbelly strategy by manipulating FDR, while also keeping up an Air Front on Germany, which was enough to at least placate Stalin.
 
Mar 2016
1,089
Australia
#7
Just a guess, but maybe they wanted to show the Soviet Union that they were doing something. That way, the Soviets would have been less likely to make a separate peace with the Nazis.
This is correct. Before the invasion of Italy in 1943, the Soviets were constantly and angrily demanding that the British open up a second front in France to draw away some of the German divisions fighting them in the east, but Churchill knew this would be suicidal before the Americans had fully committed to such an operation. As much as Churchill thought the strategic bombing was both morally unpleasant and strategically inefficient, he pretty much had to go through with it because if he stopped the Soviets would be furious and would possibly break their alliance with the Allies. Although the Soviets making a separate peace with the Germans was not likely at all, since Churchill knew that both the Germans and Soviets would fight to the death before either side conditionally surrendered to the other.
 
Apr 2014
372
Istanbul Turkey
#8
In hindsight critics of RAF Strategic Air Bombing against Germany during 1940-45 era ignore that not only premier RAF commanders but also pioneers of aviation in pre war era like Douhet , Mitchell and politicians like Stanley Baldwin regarded air attack on urban centers would be ultimate weapon that would destroy targeted city , wipe out all kind of order , organisation in target city etc and win any war in short time at one stroke and most importantly without much casaulties in attackers side. Some like H.G. Wells (writer of Time Machine , The War of Worlds ) even went further claiming that air bombing of cities would end civilisation itself. Strategic bomber force was regarded as ultimate weapon , that would at least collapse morale of enemy civilian population if not destroy complate war making capacity of enemy and since bitter memories of trench warfare on ground and extreme casaulties during Great War still remembered , winning a future war cheaply at one stroke appealed a lot to British war planners and politicians before war. During 1920'ies and 30'ies era while Ten Year Rule (basically Britain would not fight a major war on Continent for incoming ten years presumption and allocationg defence budget accordingly ) had been in effect and after it has been lifted , heavy investments were made to improve , expand RAF Strategic Bomber Force. British PM Stanley Baldwin said during Rhineland Crisis in 1935 "Bomber would always get through" Main idea had been bomber force would serve as a deterrant against Britains enemies (like nuclear weapons of this era) to prevent any war or would be an ultimate instrument that would win any incoming war cheaply and conclude the war shortly.

When war started after fall of France in 1940 everyone from politicians to British Imperial General Staff , RAF Air Marshalls and theoricians wanted to see results of all pre war investments to RAF Strategic Bomber Force and if it was justified. More ineffective results (at least initially during 1940-41) of air offensive over Reich , more RAF staffs asked and acquired resources so more bombs dropped to justfy existence of such a great strategic air arm and win the war cheaply and RAF Bomber Command expanded more and more till 1945 when Royal Air Force had enough bombers to bounce rubble heaped in enemy cities just by bombing but eventually it still took ground troops (lots of them) that required to reach Berlin and end the war victoriously.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,920
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#9
Exactly my point. The bombing campaign hadn't really started yet and Churchill was already skeptical. I can accept that Churchill supported the bombing campaign as a sop to the Soviets. Churchill was keenly aware of those types of political considerations. But did Churchill really think that strategic bombing would shorten the war? There's no suggestion of that belief in this memo.
I cannot say, but probably here there is a misunderstanding. Churchill mentions the opinion of the Air Staff about air strikes against UK, not in general. The Air Staff wasn't sustaining that air strikes weren't that effective or strategically important. The Air Staff was telling UK government that in case of air strikes coming from the enemy [so Germany] in Britain the casualties would have been remarkable.

This is clear in the following passage of the memo

Again, the Air Staff, after the war had begun, taught us sedulously to believe that if the enemy acquired the Low Countries, to say nothing of France, our position would be impossible owing to the air attacks.
In other words, the Air Staff was saying that air strikes were so effective that to have the Luftwaffe on the other side of the sea would have been a disaster.
 

Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#10
In the fall of '41 the Air Staff was gearing up for an expanded bombing campaign against Germany and were making promises about the effectiveness of that bombing campaign, possibly the RAF Air Staff was promising to win the war all by themselves without any ground fighting. Churchill is warning the Air Staff not to make promises they probably won't be able to keep. In the Battle of Britain Germany's bombing campaign had been mostly ineffective, and Churchill was predicting that the RAF's bombing campaign would similarly fail to live up to pre-war expectations.
 
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