NCFP Book Review | The Bombing War by Richard Overy

NCFP Book Review | The Bombing War by Richard OveryNCFP Book Review – The Bombing War by Richard Overy

I’m reading “The Bombing War” by Richard Overy. Now that blows away a few myths!

The story about the RAF being massively outnumbered in the Battle of Britain was ….propaganda. At the start, the Germans had a few more planes than we did; by the end, we significantly outnumbered them! Why? We were able to replace planes four times faster, and pilots twice as fast, as the Germans could. For example, the actual production of German bombers in January 1941 was ….. 130. And that was a pretty good month. We never produced less than three times what the Germans did in any month from August 1940 on. The maximum number of German operational aircraft was in May 1940; it only declined thereafter.

We claimed to be able to bring down loads of German planes with anti-aircraft fire and day and night fighters. In fact, the best we could achieve in August 1940 was 1 plane per 6000 shells fired – if the numbers ‘shot down’ could be believed. By March 1941 we were achieving 1 plane per 3195 shells fired. In fact, the overwhelming majority of German planes brought down were due to accidents and mechanical failures. Our anti-aircraft defences were so poor that searchlights were frequently ordered to be shut off because they guided the bombers to their targets! And the night fighters especially couldn’t find their targets before good airborne radar became available.

The Germans couldn’t make bombs fast enough, either. They had to dramatically reduce the number of 1000 kg mines because they used too much explosive. And if bombers failed to find their targets, their orders were not to drop the bombs, but to return home, come in low before landing, and then drop them, so that they didn’t go off (the fuses were altitude activated), and then could be recovered and re-used.

Our intelligence believed and circulated a report in the Spring of 1941 that the Germans were amassing 14000 aircraft to attack Britain in one huge “banquet”. How many aircraft did they actually have? 833 bombers and 829 fighters were serviceable for action against Britain. The RAF’s own assessment was 1800 bombers and a similar number of fighters.

Apparently, it was also untrue that the Luftwaffe was knocking out RAF airfields in the Battle of Britain. They couldn’t even hit most of them!! Biggin Hill was out of action for just a few days; most were never out of action at all. Normally, only around 10-30% of bombers could find the targets (RAF figures); 47% of the German bomber formations found Coventry, because of the exceptional weather conditions. And if they could drop bombs within 2 km, they were very lucky – a secretly recorded conversation between two German airmen PoWs proved that they were seriously struggling.

It seems that we over stated what the Germans could do by a long way; and they both vastly overstated what they had achieved (propaganda, both for the public, and for the party bosses), and underestimated what the RAF could do in terms of both radar and organisation.

Interesting what opening the archives exposes, isn’t it?

The first link below is to the Kindle version for £6.49

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