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Thread: Did Bomber Command deliberately try to start firestorms?

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    Default Did Bomber Command deliberately try to start firestorms?

    Our branch of the Western Front Association (Central Ontario) had a special visit from author Martin Middlebrook yesterday, and to make the occasion all the more enjoyable, it was held at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton. During his second discussion of the day, on the Nuremburg raid of 30/31 March 1944, which he wrote about, Middlebrook was asked if Bomber Command sought to deliberately start firestorms and it was his opinion that they did not - they were just the result of the normal payload of HE plus incendiaries that needed the right weather conditions to result in one. I thought I had read somewhere, however, that there were deliberate attempts to recreate the phenomenon. Can anyone shed any light on this?
    David

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    David, Hi,
    In “Most Secret War” by R V Jones (Hamish Hamilton 1978) he says, of the Hamburg raid (p 386 in my deteriorating version!) “On this second raid on Hamburg there was spectacular illumination from the fires on the ground, because we had unwittingly created what came to be known as a ‘fire storm’.”. This, I suggest, would not have gone unnoticed in the BC OR Branch. Many of the civilian housing elements in many German cities were made largely of wood. It might be supposed that ‘the planners’ might have mused “If we can’t hit No 3 Furnace in the Krupps works at X, then at least we might be able to destroy the housing of the workers who operate it by raining incendiaries on wooden roofs?”. I suspect it was used later on. Whether, or not, that was why Harris did not get the post-war civil acclaim he deserved remains to be seen – and is, still, hotly debated!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Yes, indeed it is "hotly" debated. Middlebrook let his editorial hair down during his talk and was quite outspoken and almost bitter about it. He is convinced Harris, who he interviewed for his book, should have been relieved of command for so doggedly pursuing his strategy of area bombing. I am not so sure it's as cut and dried as that, but it's easy to see why BC was overlooked for honours until now.
    David

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    David, Hi,
    I did two tours at RAF Benson. We had a Wg Cdr SMO. Why? Because just down the road at Stoke Row lived, in his retirement, Sir Arthur Harris. So I am biased.
    BUT, having read much of the relevant histories, I am convinced that Harris had an idea that he could end the war early by area bombing. Whether he was right, or not, is not yet firmly established. He may have been wrong! But the problem lies not with Harris, but with his boss - Portal – who should have had the guts to sack Harris, but didn’t. Classic example of senior RAF commanders playing politics. Fighter pilots do not, by and large, make good politicians! QED!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Last edited by Resmoroh; 8th September 2014 at 19:19.
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Middlebrook said the same about Portal.

    I just read a piece on the bombing of Dresden and the bomb load was apparently the standard mix of 60/40 HE/Incendiary that the RAF used for city raids. The USAAF apparently adopted the same ratio for their raid on Dresden and there was awareness that trying to overwhelm the fire services, at least, was deliberate.
    David

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    I do not think that you find any document stating fire storm was deliberate desired effect. It looks much better on paper if it is a side effect. That said, Germans used to attack purely civilian targets, although to achieve tactical rather than strategic effect, one of them being panic, resulting with crowding of roads. I wonder, who was the first to claim that the next war should be a total one, with civilian population being a legitimate target.

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    I seem to remember reading somewhere that the German High Command were of the opinion that if the RAF was able to carry out four or five more raids that caused firestorms, on the scale of Hamburg, during the Summer of 1943 that Germany would be forced to sue for peace. The massive dislocation of communications and displacement of people put immense pressure on existing resources. Sorry I can't remember the source.

    Best Regards

    Andy Fletcher
    Per Speculationem Impellor ad Intelligendum

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    It may not have been the stated intent on raid March 1944 but AIR 14/764 contains the minutes of the Incendiary Test Panel that commenced just before June 1944.

    The recommendation was to increase the load to 80%/20% from 60/40

    Notes of meeting 29th June 1944 contain the paragraph

    "30 lb Mk IV I.B.

    8. The statements given by the Incendiary Bomb Test Panel were agreed.
    It was considered that if the primary object is to burn down the town the value of a bomb should be based primarily on its fire raising capabilities and not on its anti-morale value."

    This was the terminology used in the official minutes and correspondence.

    http://www.rafaircraftaccidents.com/DSCF5992.JPG

    Regards
    Ross
    Last edited by Ross_McNeill; 8th September 2014 at 20:11.
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    Hi Andy,

    That quote was from Albert Speer, I believe.
    David

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    It is my understanding that Harris was encouraged or even instructed by Portal. Harris was not a total maverick, he listened to his high command to an extent, and reacted accordingly so he just needed to be pulled back and surely could have been. Did the propaganda, press or government want that when they could see the we were pushing back, creating another front as was required. What else could we do at that time. Look at the papers, they were applauding what was going on.

    Should it have been stopped later on? It was not, by anyone.

    Always easy in hindsight.

    Regards,

    Nick
    KenFentonsWar.com

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