RAF in WW2: PR and the historical record


I came across this article the other day: Naval Review Article on interservice cooperation in 1942

A FEW days ago the Minister for Information informed the House of Commons that between 1st September, 1939, and 30th June, 1942, the three Services had spent the following amounts on advertising :­

Navy. . . . £63,000

Army. . . . £133,400

R.A.F. . . £414,000

These figures are concrete evidence of the way in which the R.A.F. has been boosting itself ever since the war began. The Air Ministry issues daily communiques in which frequently there is nothing but reference to another fighter sweep over France or another bomber shot down. Well might the Admiralty issue similar daily communiques stating that our minesweepers carried out another sweep in the approaches to Spithead and another mine was destroyed! When any operation, which is primarily a naval or military one, is carried out the Air Ministry at once issues a communique to draw attention to the fact that the R.A.F. had a hand in it even if it was a small one. The Admiralty might as well issue a communique every time any military operation took place abroad drawing attention to the fact that all the troops who took part were conveyed safely there by the Navy. The Air Ministry has rushed into print with booklets like "The Battle of Britain" and "Bomber Command "-whilst the Admiralty appears to have issued none until "Ark Royal" came out the other day. Members of all branches of the R.A.F. are particularly prolific with books describing their experiences in prose and poem. Finally, every journal, whether it be a great newspaper like the "Sunday Times" or a society weekly like "The Tatler," has a vociferous air correspondent who, in these days of rigid paper economy, is accorded several times the space allowed to his confrere the naval correspondent, if he exists at all

I'm not interested in starting yet another inter-service pissing contest- there are enough of them elsewhere on ARRSE.

The question in my mind is a more historical one. A number of historians would argue that some periods of history conventionally thought to be exceptional are only considered as such because the period is one for which we have a comparatively high level of access to historical records. An example would be Alfred the Great (because he created a cadre of priests and monks who produces reams of documents, in English) or the Renaissance (arguably distinguished from other, earlier, renaissances by the invention of the printing press and the explosion of written sources).

So my question is, are modern interpretations of the Second World War, and of the RAF's role, in fact based upon a distortion which arose from the RAF's PR effort in wartime?

Given the official stats quoted in the article (I've not looked at Hansard for 1942) it seems the RAF was clearly winning the PR war at home. Was this simply a fair reflection of the RAF's contribution (given the Battle of Britain one might think so) or was it to the detriment of the other two services whose efforts elsewhere were arguably equally vital but less well publicised?

Equally, does the public view of WW2 still reflect this imbalance? Do more people know of and understand the significance of the Battle of Britain than the battles of the Atlantic or Normandy?


Yes, it's a fair question. Air forces tend to spawn civilian organisations (like the Australian Air League and the Air Training Corps) whose charter is to promote "air-mindedness" amongst the general public - youth especially. I think what it mostly reflects, is the RAF's awareness that the other two services can point to centuries of tradition, giving them an easily-recognised brand name. The RAF was only 20 years old at the outbreak of WWII, and still unsure of its continued existence. This would make an interesting topic if someone were to choose it for a dissertation.

In addition, all RAF aircrew were volunteers throughout the war, despite that fact that certain aircrew communities (notably Bomber Command) had the highest fatality rate of any UK military specialisation. Considerable emphasis was therefore placed upon recruitment, and maintaining the profile of flying duties.

I certainly don't think the RAF's contribution to WWII has been misconstrued in any way, despite regular 'revisionist' articles including the one claiming that it was in fact the RN who'd won the Battle of Britain!! Indeed, the Bomber Offensive is generally felt by many to have achieved little despite the accuracy of later raids and the testimony of Nazi leaders.

A lot of people are fascinated by aircraft, especially military aircraft. And even more especially vintage aircraft. I guess the reason is that we can all dream about flying a Sopwith Camel or even a Spitfire. But most of also know only too well that we could never cope with handling an F-18. Which is why the RAF was always going to be the glamour service of WWII in the public's eye and still is, seventy years later.

As far as I can tell Fighter Command was reasonably efficient until Dowding was kicked out, then went to sleep. It certainly showed no urgency at all in getting Spitfires to the desert or the Far East. Bomber command, after terrible losses, finally became very efficient well after it mattered to anybody. Most British aircraft were either obsolete, straight out rubbish or wrongly used. The immense manufacturing effort poured into the heavy bomber program meant that the Army had no decent tanks, few self propelled artillery batteries, not enough effective anti-tank weapons and no armoured personnel carriers beyond a regiment of converted Canadian tanks. Worst of all the RAF wasn't interested in anybody's war but their own. It took seismic eruptions at top levels before the Air Staff would do anything to help in the Atlantic or in Army support.

In hindsight the two most effective handlers of air power in WWII were not air forces at all. They were the US Navy and the US Marines. Navy carrier and land based planes sank everything that came up against them and the Marine Corp understood air-ground co-operation through and through. They'd been practising it in Central America for twenty years and every Marine pilot was also a trained infantryman. They knew what was needed and where it was needed.

The most overlooked yet vital fighting force of the Second World War was the Canadian Navy. In 1939 it had 13 ships and 3,500 men, including reserves. By the end of the war it was the 4th largest navy in the world. It fought almost exclusively on the Atlantic convoy routes and without those 300+ Canadian escorts the U-boats would almost certainly have won the battles.
I'm afraid that it's no surprise that this appeared in Naval Review, which, I sometimes suspect, has had an undeclared 'We hate the crabs' section of the journal since 1918...

The article ignores the fact that 1942 was the year in which the cabinet had decided to increase the size of Bomber Command significantly. Strangely enough, they took the view that the way to encourage young men to volunteer should be done through a PR effort rather than by messages scrawled in the Gents' in pubs and the like, while word of mouth was thought to be ineffective. Also, of course, if you expand Bomber Command, you need to increase the numbers of those maintaining the aircraft, training the new crews, etc, etc...

I suppose the writer of the Naval Review article would've thought that the recruitment effort would have been more appropriate had Bert Harris been sent round town centres in a Town Cryer's uniform shouting 'Oy-yez, Oy-yez, join the RAF and fly with Bomber Command!'

Second, the press and public wanted to know what the RAF were up to. The RFC had a tradition of putting out the sorts of communiques that the article is dripping about during WW1, and the RAF continued the tradition. There was a clear view that if the public wanted to know (and after the Battle of Britain, they did in greater numbers than before) then information, even of the blandest sort, should be supplied to the press. So, the RAF's tradition of issuing commuinques has to be 'blamed' on the Army, who started it...

The question the article should've been asking was why on earth the RN was playing its PR hand less well. Given Clausewitz's trinity, letting the population know what was going on and using PR to get them to be attracted into joining some part the service, etc, etc was perfectly legitimate.

There are far too many records in the National Archives that support the general thrust of the information given to the public by the RAF in WW2, and as MM notes, some of the perceptions that have arisen subsequently which are less-than faouvrable to the RAF are actually challenged by proper analysis of the documentation which didn't get put into the press, along with the views of those on the recieving end suggesting that the RAF did better than is commonly thought in some areas. That doesn't mean that the RAF was perfect (far from it), but it does suggest that the PR effort in WW2 hasn't skewed the understanding of the RAF's work significantly.
What total rubbish LJ. Rarely have I read a more factually incorrect (or is it biased?) post on ARRSE. Having studied the period extensively (to Masters level to be precise), your post is misleading in virtually every point you raise.

littlejim said:
As far as I can tell Fighter Command was reasonably efficient until Dowding was kicked out, then went to sleep. It certainly showed no urgency at all in getting Spitfires to the desert or the Far East.

In what way did it go to sleep? Fighter Command moved onto the offensive very soon after the BoB. In this respect, the wing concept was developed with increasingly complex fighter sweep tactics being coordinated in cooperation with Bomber Command light bombers and indeed RN surface actions and Army Commando raids. These tactics proved highly effective despite the disadvantages in terms of fuel incurred by the Allied aircraft.

Simultaneously, the Command led the world in the development of AI radar and night fighter and intruder ops throughout the war.

The lack of decent available fighters for the Mediterranean and Far East theatres was purely down to available resources at a time when Britain still faced considerable threat from the Luftwaffe. The same accusations could be levelled at the RN for the way in which it initially resisted attempts to allow carriers to support the besieged Malta, or allocate greater resources to Malaya. After the initial losses in Malaya and Burma however, very experienced RAF personnel of all ranks were allocated to the Theatre from Europe.

The development of effective ALI in the North African Campaign, as well as the often overlooked Burma Theatre, was a 2 way street with faults on both sides. However, relatively rapidly the RAF and Army had established an exceptionally able system for what would now be called Joint fires, CAS and Air Dispatch. This subsequently worked highly effectively in Europe and USAAF units adopted similar procedures.

littlejim said:
Bomber command, after terrible losses, finally became very efficient well after it mattered to anybody.

Even basic research on this matter will indicate how inaccurate that statement is. Quite aside from the enormous diversion of German resources away from the front line caused by the Bomber Campaign, significant results were achieved from a relatively early stage of the war. Indeed, Oboe Mosquito bombers were so accurate from high level that the Gestapo believed homing beacons were being placed by agents. Increasing RAF EW efforts caused immense confusion to the German defences, even before the Battle of Hamburg when Window was introduced.

Probably most importantly however was the sheer morale effect upon the British public of offensive operations. This was the only way that the Allies could strike at the Reich homeland itself at a time when the Army (and to a lesser extent the RN) were in no fit state to challenge Axis forces. At the Strategic level, it also allowed Britain to deflect Soviet criticism about the lack of a ‘second front’ being opened.

Later in the war when you suggest ‘it mattered to nobody’, the impact upon German POL supplies (especially synthetic oil) was enormous.

littlejim said:
The immense manufacturing effort poured into the heavy bomber program meant that the Army had no decent tanks, few self propelled artillery batteries, not enough effective anti-tank weapons and no armoured personnel carriers beyond a regiment of converted Canadian tanks.

There were large numbers of armoured vehicles and similar weaponry being produced in Britain and elsewhere. However, the UK placed emphasis upon lighter tanks such as the Sherman whilst persisting with the far from ideal Churchill in the heavier roles. Only later did we field the Comet. To blame this purely upon aircraft production is extremely misleading as better designs were available but were not pursued by many in the Army.

littlejim said:
Worst of all the RAF wasn't interested in anybody's war but their own. It took seismic eruptions at top levels before the Air Staff would do anything to help in the Atlantic or in Army support.

Let’s look at the Atlantic War. Bomber Command significantly reduced German U-Boat output both directly and indirectly whilst damaging a number of major surface combatants. Other ships were moved to ports beyond the range of Bomber Command and the USAAF. From the outset of the Campaign, naval (and particularly U-Boat) related targets were very high on the targeting list. The RAF developed special weapons such as Highball, Grand Slam and Tall Boy to target naval assets and U-Boat pens. At a time when even the latest Bomber Command aircraft lacked the range to patrol the primary U-Boat areas, and Coastal Command was spending large periods of time on fruitless patrols, I would suggest that priorities were allocated appropriately. Moreover, EW technology (notably H2S) directly led to the fielding of greatly improved ASV radar and other maritime sensors in the Atlantic and elsewhere.

Most importantly however, the night bomber offensive caused an enormous diversion of German personnel, industrial effort and resources away from activities which would otherwise have been brought to bear against the Allies. Aside from over one million German personnel allocated to air defence (fighter, nightfighter, radar, Flak, civil defence, medical etc) that would otherwise have been assigned to the front, radar, EW, aircraft and munitions effort was all diverted towards defensive systems. This became the number one priority for German leadership. Later in the war, following the Pointblank agreement, German fuel, oil and synthetic oil supplies were crippled by bombing.

I’d agree that Harris initially resisted attempts to refocus Bomber Command on tactical targets in the run up to D-Day, and he placed too much emphasis upon targeting cities. However, this was partially because he doubted the value of bombing occupied towns. In this he was wrong and Bomber Command significantly degraded Axis communications in Western France with surprisingly limited collateral damage to surrounding French, Belgian and Dutch populations (although sadly there were some notable exceptions). Ironically, these tactical ops involved smaller raids and precipitated increasing RAF use of diversionary tactics when they partially reverted to strategic bombing later in 1944.

Of particular note regarding D-Day, a small force of 100 Gp aircraft managed to draw all enemy nightfighter and E-Boat activity away from the approaching armada of ships and paratroop aircraft during the night of 5/6 Jun 44. This was achieved using navigation and EW techniques developed for strategic raids.

littlejim said:
In hindsight the two most effective handlers of air power in WWII were not air forces at all. They were the US Navy and the US Marines. Navy carrier and land based planes sank everything that came up against them and the Marine Corp understood air-ground co-operation through and through. They'd been practising it in Central America for twenty years and every Marine pilot was also a trained infantryman. They knew what was needed and where it was needed.

Utter, utter rubbish. The USN was successful because they had such an overwhelming naval superiority in the Pacific. USN (and indeed RN) carrier aircraft were very successful against Japanese shipping simply because the Japanese didn’t have the resources to match the Allies in replacing carrier and aircraft losses, quite aside from the associated personnel.

As far as ALI goes, the reason the USMC so jealously guard their organic fast air is because the USN had proved incapable of supporting them on the ground. Subsequently, the USMC became extremely efficient in ALI. However, I would suggest that the supreme example of ALI in WWII was that developed (Jointly) between Wingates Chindits, Slim’s XIVth Army, and the RAF in the Burma and Arakan Campaign from 1943 onwards. This was the only example where large scale Joint ALI forces were inserted behind enemy lines for extended periods using Air as its sole means of resupply. In comparison, whereas the USMC was equally adept at the kinetic aspects of ALI, they rarely operated behind enemy lines, and never in the numbers used by the RAF.

In contrast, the RAF and British Army established field airstrips behind the Japanese lines where a wide variety of aircraft types operated from and into. This included AT (air land and air dispatch), medevac, CAS and recce. Indeed, the CAS would regularly be applied within sight of the airfield, and sometimes even on it! A wide variety of specialist RAF personnel was established to support these ops and completed similar trg to the Chindits. Aside from aircrew, met, FACs, SIGINT and comms staff were all deployed into the jungle. Often they would create (with the RE) and occupy a jungle strip and withdraw with the Army to defensive locations on the airfield over night before pushing the Japanese troops off the land again the next day. An excellent quote from the definitive book on the subject (by Henry Probert) came from a Dakota pilot who stated that on touching down on a Chindit strip for the first sortie of the day, the crew would carefully examine the troops along the edge of the runway. If they were Japanese, ‘we’d go around!’

I would suggest therefore that those ops in Burma remain the pre-eminent example of effective ALI in WWII and arguably throughout the history of air power.

I would also suggest LJ that you get your facts straight in future so that you can present a more accurate and/or less biased argument.

Magic_Mushroom said:
<snip> However, I would suggest that the supreme example of ALI in WWII was that developed (Jointly) between Wingates Chindits, Slim’s XIVth Army, and the RAF in the Burma and Arakan Campaign from 1943 onwards.

As would a certain FM Viscount Slim...


As usual MM produces a breathtakingly well-informed and comprehensive post.

The only thing I can add is to emphasize MM's point that the RAF had the monopoly on palpable offensive action against Germany,. During the darkest days of the war the general public wanted to hear that some retribution was being dished out directly to the Germans, so it seem natural that the PR focus would be on the service could most easily be seen to be doing exactly that.

It would be interesting to know why Naval Review chose to re-publish this rather badly-written article from 1942, other than to continue to fan the anti-RAF feeling that persists in the RN.


To clarify, the article is one of a few available publicly on their website. I doubt it's been republished since 1942, and the article was deliberatley provocative. In fact the author's focus is inter service rivalry more generally, and the degtrimental impact it could have on the effectiveness of the British war effort. His eventual recommendation is to establish what we would now call a 'purple' service in which more senior officers from the army, RN and RAF would effectively leave their original services and become a permanent pool of joint staff.

As I said at the start, the aim of this thread wasn't to start crab bashing. I certainly wasn't aware that Bomber Command was all-volunteer. That makes their efforts, and sacrifice, all the more significant.

I suppose the question could be turned around. Why didn't the RN and Army make more of their own operations in the first years fof the war? And has perception of those services suffered, since the war, as a result?
Just to clarify, Bomber Command per se wasn't a volunteer force. However, all RAF aircrew were volunteers throughout the war and the law of averages meant that many would end up on bombers.

I believe those that applied for pilot, if unsuccessful, would often be streamed observer or (from 1941 onwards) navigator or bomb aimer (a fair bet you'd end up on bombers if you ended up with a 'B' brevet!!). Personnel who passed aircrew selection but showed less aptitude for pilot/nav (bomb aimers completed much of the nav syllabus) were generally streamed as air gunners with flt engineers being made up a greater proportion of remustered groundcrew.



P2000 - "I suppose the question could be turned around. Why didn't the RN and Army make more of their own operations in the first years of the war?"

Offering an opinion - rather than 'there's a PRO files that states' - the early years of the war were a 'Parson's egg' for us, no? Our Army in Norway had to be withdrawn as did both BEFs in France. We were even pushed out of Ethiopia. The media naturally reported this, having little option with the huge number of soldiers returning. There was little to crow about till successes in N.Africa. An exception being the albeit small raids by the new Cdos. Coupled with the intended degree of mystique which surrounded them, they soon obtained celebrity with fighter pilots.

Also, while there were Naval engagements, the Germans did not have a fleet to match or take on the RN in huge sea battles. In the smaller engagements the Germans had a fair measure of success. In the public mind, whether from the media or word of mouth, was the success of the U-boats which initially we could do little about.

Re the air war, of it's nature it was very much in public view and seen to be being won over Britain. Also, plane production was not as great a problem as turning out more pilots.

If, at the time you had to promote to the public, (which of course means the enemy as well), and wanted to be as accurate as possible, would you not be keenest to promote the RAF?

"And has perception of those services suffered, since the war, as a result?"

I really can't see that? Only a minority of the RAF are pilots or aircrew, and of course you can fly for the Army or Navy. Are you suggesting there is more perceived prestige in being a RAF officer than Army or Navy?

I don't like you, Magic Mushrom. I'll have a rational and polite debate with anybody but when I'm gratuitously insulted by some prat who's totally ignorant on the subject he's shouting about, I get seriously annoyed. As for your supposed Master's degree, if you do have such a thing, it must be in theoretical and applied bullsh-t. So I'm going to expose you to everybody who reads this thread as the total tosser you are. And because I'm a busy man, and to prolong the pleasure of cutting you up for fish bait, I'll deal with each point week by week.

So the subject for today's sermon, members of the congregation, is my assertion that Fighter Command mostly went to sleep after the Battle of Britain.

The text from which this reading is taken is "The Right Of The Line" (The Royal Air Force in the European War), written by John Terraine, Hodder and`Stoughton Ltd, 1985, ISNB 1 85362 683 3,
pages 282 - 288 inclusive.

By the latter end of 1941 there were 75 day fighter squadrons retained in the UK -- the vast majority of them equipped with the Spitfire, the best British fighter. At the same time there were 35 RAF fighter squadrons in the Middle and Far East. Not one of those squadrons was equipped with Spitfires.

What did those 75 UK squadrons achieve in 1941? Those 75 squadrons with a thousand or more brand new Spitfires in their hands?

Because virtually all the Luftwaffe bombers and nearly all of its fighters were in Russia, there were no air attacks of any great consequence against the UK. So the RAF began a series of fighter sweeps over France which the Luftwaffe quickly learned to ignore because they were simply a waste of British 100 octane petrol. So the RAF began to mix bombers in with the fighters to make sure the BF 109's had to come up to play.

And play they did. Very efficiently. John Terraine's best estimate of the balance sheet is that four British fighters were shot down for every German fighter. And, of course, the British pilots who baled out ended up as prisoners whilst the Germans who landed by parachute and were uninjured were back in action next day. That was how we lost Bader and Robert Tuck.

Sending short ranged Spitfires over France was as stupid as sending infantry over the top into machine gun fire. The difference was that infantry is easily replaced, whilst the 400 Spits that went down over France would have been worth their weight in gold in Malta and in North Africa. The leaders of Fighter Command, the RAF and the government were all asleep at the switch to allow this pointless waste of resources to go on.

Neither should we forget the bombers involved. Terraine, a staunch admirer of the RAF, records that in only four months, April to June, 1941, 776 bombers were written of from all causes as part of this aerial charge of the light brigade.

The damage that this nonsensical campaign did in diverting precious aircraft away from where they were really needed is something I'll deal with in my next post. However, there is one more point to be clarified in this one.

I made the remark that fighter command was reasonably efficient until Dowding left. That statement was based on the basis of the introduction of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, the setting up of the radar chain and the absolutely vital command and control centres which linked the radars to the sector controllers and the airfields. However, that's a very charitable viewpoint. There are those who said afterwards that Fighter Command even under Dowding was an absolute shambles of an organisation. And one of those critics was Wing Commander H.R. (Dizzy) Allen, DFC. Allen flew right through the BoB, was credited with 10 kills and was made a Squadron Leader at the age of 21. Indeed, it's probably true to say that he commanded more fighter squadrons in his career than any officer in RAF history.

There's no point in my enlarging on Allen's savage criticisms of the Air Staff, of Dowding, of the totally inadequate armament of British fighters in 1940, of the failure to learn from and copy Luftwaffe combat formations, of the failure to attack enemy airfields. Anybody who's seriously interested should read his book on the subject: "Who Won The Battle Of Britain?", first published by Arthur Barker Ltd in 1974. My copy was published in 1976 by Panther Books Ltd and doesn't have an ISNB number -- I presume that was before the system was introduced.

Let me make it quite clear that if anybody vehemently disagrees with Allen's conclusions they'd best raise his ghost and talk to it, if Dizzy can spare the time from Valhalla. I'm simply reporting on what he wrote, and that's the beginning and end of it. I am definitely not interested in hearing from some ar-ehole with an ar-ehole wiper degree who thinks he knows more than a man who was there and did the business. I'm only reporting on what the pilot with ten crosses underneath his cockpit gave as his considered opinion.

I can’t say I do not like you as I’ve never met you. Forums such as this are inevitably less forgiving than the spoken word, which can be softened over a beer or 2. I never seek to cause offence directly and if I have done so I apologise. Nevertheless, I will robustly challenge individuals who write what I consider to be factually incorrect, misleading and/or biased posts.

I did not however lower myself at any stage to the use of obscenities as you have done, and nor would I ever do so on a public forum such as this. I would suggest that this cheapens your own intellectual contributions somewhat LJ and you come across as a fairly vindictive individual from your last post. You may wish to consider the impression that such a writing style presents of you as a person before posting in future.

For what it’s worth, my Masters degree is in Defence Studies, gained through the UK Defence Academy under the stewardship of Kings College London. My thesis was on an aspect of the Night Bomber Offensive which affected the entire Campaign from both sides’ perspective. I also wrote papers on the Malta Campaign and Air Land Interface (ALI) during the Burma and Arakan operations. During my studies, we were required to study all aspects of contemporary and historical Joint operations (notably including Singapore) and I was lucky enough to visit the El Alamein battlefield. At least one subscriber to ARRSE should be able to confirm my credentials in this respect if he so chooses.

Now, back to the debate. Overall, I would suggest that you fall into the trap of many contemporary students of the period in that you appear to look at history with a modern mindset using the benefit of hindsight, yet without considering the second and third order factors of the time.

In terms of the allocation of equipment, this mindset is particularly relevant. 1941 was arguably one of the worst periods of the war for the UK which found herself virtually alone. For many, the ignominy of having been forced off the Continent was visceral and the memories of the previous summer when invasion had seemed imminent were very fresh. The population were still recovering from an unprecedented Blitz and feared further such attacks. Churchill therefore rightly focused upon Germany as the greatest Axis threat and convinced the US of that fact even after Japan entered the war.

Whilst the German main effort had indeed switched to Barbarossa by mid 1941 and diluted the threat to Britain, this threat was still felt by many to be very real. The emergence of the FW-190 temporarily seized air superiority back from the RAF. Meanwhile, I would suggest that the ‘Channel Dash’, Jabo ‘tip and runs’ and the other more serious operations which continued against the UK mainland (such as the ‘Vengeance’ Raids against Southern England and the Baedecker Raids of 1942) continued to demand considerable emphasis be placed upon homeland defence. This was imperative both from a morale perspective, and in terms of protection of key UK ports and facilities at a time when the Battle of the Atlantic was entering a decisive phase.

You also appear overly focused upon day fighter ops whilst ignoring the importance of Fighter Command's night fighter operations. After the Blitz, these were very important and gradually spawned highly successful intruder tactics throughout Europe and the Mediterranean/Balkans theatres which severely reduced the freedom of operation enjoyed by German assets.

Clearly, this had to be done at the expense of other theatres. However, I think it is fair to suggest that all 3 services were guilty to some extent of similar (if understandable) apportionment. Malta was a very close run thing but the failure of Germany and Italy to maintain the aim by diverting resources to Greece and Russia allowed a degree of latitude. When the RN eventually agreed to release carriers to the Med, Spitfires gradually assumed the AD of the Island from March 1941. Similarly, Spitfires arrived in North Africa a month later and notable effort was expended on meeting specific threats in the Theatre such as high flying Ju-86Ps. This led to the RAF fielding a specialised high altitude Mk VB variant; hardly the trait of an organisation unwilling to confront challenges.

The wider logistics of getting Spitfires to the Far East however remained formidable at a time when the African ferry routes and facilities remained immature and there were insufficient RN carriers to repeat the Maltese example. Finally, in the 'late 1941' timescale you mention regarding the disposition of Spitfires, we were yet to be at war with Japan and certainly hadn’t fully engaged with them! Of this period, I think the primary charge which can be levelled against the UK services is one of arrogance in underestimating Japan's military. From the RAF perspective, this perpetuated the myth that Buffaloes, Hurricanes, Blenheims and Vildebeests would be adequate to meet the threat.

Let’s now consider the effects of the European fighter sweeps. As I acknowledged in my earlier post, these ops entailed the same problems which the Luftwaffe encountered over Britain in 1940. Yes it cost us valuable aircraft and aircrew. However, enemy luminaries such as Galland (whose own brother Paul was killed to a Spitfire in 1942) acknowledged that such operations remained a significant annoyance which tied down resources and personnel. Indeed, by 1942 the Germans were already experiencing shortages of experienced aircrew. This shortfall was particularly difficult for them to address and initiated an increasing spiral of reduced training, higher loss rates and worsening performance as the War progressed. In contrast, the RAF losses you speak of were relatively easy to replace via the Empire Air Training Scheme and US based schools. Moreover, the RAF system of resting aircrew on instructional and other duties meant that even experienced leaders could be replaced more easily.

Moreover, it is the second and third order effects of these ops which are I believe most significant. Fighter Command built up extensive operational experience in tactics which evolved via Dieppe to enormously improve the effectiveness of Allied Air and combined operations. These not only contributed to the success of D-Day and beyond in Europe, but also fed tactics and technical developments in other theatres.

I have already mentioned the moral effect of such increasingly large sweeps being seen to launch against an otherwise untouchable enemy from the British publics point of view. But consider also the impact upon the occupied nations seeing that they were not alone. Consider also that such fighter ops were also employed to initiate German AD responses which provided valuable SIGINT on the disposition of enemy radar and C2. Consider also the effects upon E-Boat and U-Boat ops in the Channel. Consider also the increased freedom of operation enjoyed by our own naval and airborne mining ops due to Fighter Command.

At a time when Germany was diverting its attention elsewhere, the fighter circuses caused increasingly annoyance to the Luftwaffe and embarrassment to Goering. It was a small but nevertheless weeping wound for them; attack, as always, is the best form of defence. I would suggest that there were few people alive in Britain at the time who would argue that such operations should not have been conducted nor in the priorities ascribed.

Whether these priorities were correct can be debated either way. The fact that the North African and Mediterranean Campaigns were ultimately successful whilst the homeland defences remained viable suggests however that they were.

On now to your further criticism of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. I do not believe that I ever stated that the RAF or Fighter Command was perfect. The failings highlighted by Allen are well known, particularly the poor formation tactics initially employed. This reflected the combat experience gained by Germany in Spain which the RAF had not had the luxury of learning from at first hand. Indeed, all 3 UK services were undoubtedly guilty of demonstrating arrogance and operational inertia during the early years of the war.

However, as I have not argued otherwise I’m not quite sure what point you are attempting to make LJ.

In summary, you made what I would suggest was a sweeping generalisation that RAF Fighter Command ‘went to sleep’ after the dismissal of Dowding. We can all find suitable authors, statistics and articles to support our own viewpoints. However, I considered that statement factually incorrect and very misleading. Nothing you have since written has changed my mind. Rather, I believe that you are demonstrating the classic error of arguing with the benefit of hindsight, whilst failing to appreciate wider factors at play during the period.

I look forward to your next sermon LJ. However, please do me the courtesy in future of demonstrating better manners and avoid degrading language or personal attacks.

Best wishes,

PS. You may also wish to use spell check! 8)
Dear Mr mushroom.

The very first words on your post was that I'd written absolute rubbish. This is your idea of not causing offence to contributors? This is your notion of good manners? That was not a degrading attack? Nor a personal attack? Bollocks!

And perhaps the people who gave you your Masters Degree in Defence Studies should have told you that Spitfires were not sent to Malta until March 1942, not 1941. If you can't even get a basic fact like that right . . .

The decision to let fighter command waste its time and resources over France kept perhaps two hundred German fighter pilots in the West, which made no difference at all to the early Russian campaign. It cost the British their Empire.

Oh, Greece would have fallen, Spitfires or no. Crete, on the other hand, would probably have been held, but that's pure speculation on my part. Certainly the efforts of the Desert Air Force to help the Army were hamstrung for years by the air superiority enjoyed by the Bf 109s in North Africa. Hans-Joachim Marseille alone used his Bf 109 to shoot down a hundred and fifty one RAF Hurricanes and Tomahawks into the desert and was only stopped when he was killed by an engine failure. A couple of hundred Spitfires in the desert in 1941 would have transformed the whole situation.

But wise heads would have sent several squadrons of Spitfires to Singapore in 1941. And what logistic difficulties would there have been in putting them in crates and shipping them out to the East? As you've so cleverly noticed, we weren't at war with Japan then and there'd have been plenty of time to re-assemble the Spits at the other end. I don't pretend for one minute that Singapore wouldn't have fallen in the end, but with Spitfires available the British might have been able to put up the kind of prolonged and heroic resistance the Americans managed in the Philippines. As it was the British were shown up as a bunch of chota-peg swilling, pith helmeted prats with the technological prowess of Bulgaria. The way the Japanese swept through Malaya and Singapore marked the biggest transfer of power between East and West until the Wall Street crash of 2008. What the Americans did to the Japanese afterwards had nothing to do with the case. In Eastern eyes the British, and especially their air force, was seen to be powerless. After Singapore the British Empire was nothing but a sitcom left without an audience.

No doubt you'd like to argue that Burma proved something else. It didn't. All Burma proved was the RAF was totally dependent on the US aircraft if it had any ambitions to operate outside Europe.

Your comment that I'm looking at the subject with a modern mindset is highly flattering, considering that I've been a student of World War II for over fifty years. However, if you'd prefer a contemporary opinion, please turn to page 324 of "RIGHT OF THE LINE", my previously quoted source material. There you'll find a post action report written by Air Commodore Slatter who commanded the Sudanese units of the RAF and the SAAF in the campaign against the Italian forces in East Africa. Naturally he only had a handful of outmoded machines under his control but he seems to have been one of the rarest things in British military history -- an intelligent and inter-service minded RAF officer. And the battle against the Italians wasn't always easy. On 6th November 1941 Italian aerial bombing sent a British battalion running for their lives. A battalion in the 10th Indian brigade under the command of a certain W.J. Slim, a name which even a Defence College graduate may have heard of as becoming an important one in Burma. And the Italians held the British for eight weeks at Keren, in a battle which gave the lie to to the idea that Italians couldn't fight.

The point I'm making is that although he commanded only a few squadrons, Slatter had an opportunity to learn what he considered some basic and important lessons in Army/Air Force operations in remote areas. The first point he made was the need for adequate transport aircraft.

This, of course, was one of the great weaknesses of the RAF and it was never addressed. The Harrow and the Bombay were both bombers converted into transports, with the obvious limitations of trying to change the role of an aircraft after its been introduced into service. In any case the joint production of both types was only 150. After that it was the old, old story. Half of the entire British war production was devoted to producing fleets of bombers mainly used to provide target practice for German flak gunners. You can't piss half of your money up against a wall without it costing you plenty, and transport aircraft was just one of those war winning weapons the British had to go without because of the bomber barons. As in so many of their disastrous mistakes the Air Staff were able to cover up this one with an influx of American planes. It was just the Allies great good luck to have American production lines all tooled up and ready to produce the DC3, one of the most successful aircraft ever invented.

Slatter's second point was tied in with his first. The need for more and better supply-dropping equipment. No doubt Brigadier Slim would have learnt the same lesson. Certainly it was needed, but only when transport aircraft were available to use such equipment.

Slatter's third suggestion was the need to develop long range fighters. Which was a total waste of paper. Because Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, was convinced that it was impossible to build a long range fighter. He told everybody in the RAF that it was impossible to build a long range fighter. He told the Chiefs of Staff that it was impossible to build a long range fighter. He told Churchill that it was impossible to build a long range fighter. He told the Americans it was impossible to build a long range fighter. He was still telling them that when USAAF P-51 single engined fighters were escorting American bombers to Berlin and back. Of course by then the Americans had long since come to realise that knowing something about aircraft was not a necessary qualification to become a senior officer in the RAF.

Even so, so strange was this piece of long standing lunancy from the professional head of the RAF that John Terraine felt compelled to add an appendix about it to "RIGHT OF THE LINE", appendix G, page 703.

Fourthly, Slatter wanted more red cross aircraft. Which led directly back to the total lack of interest in the RAF in transport aircraft.

Slatter's final request was for dive bombers. And asking the RAF to consider acquiring dive bombers was like asking the Pope to appoint some protestants as Cardinals. No matter how successful the Germans, the Japanese and the Americans were with dive bombers, the RAF didn't want to know. There were such things as British dive bombers. Sixteen of them sent the German cruiser Konisberg to the bottom in Norwegian waters for the loss of one aircraft in April, 1940. But, of course, they were Fleet Air Arm Skuas, another wonderful asset that somehow got thrown away. When, finally and under intense political pressure, the RAF was forced to accept some American made dive bombers it sent them off to Burma, where they turned out to be one of the most accurate bomb delivery systems the Air Force had in that era. The reason they were in Burma was because the RAF couldn't find an excuse to send them to the North Pole.

At any events there's no "hindsight'" in Slatter's report. It was written by a clever and experienced RAF officer in 1941 after a long and ardous joint campaign with the British Army. It shows in crystal clarity what was needed from the RAF and exactly how far the RAF fell in even understanding what he was talking about, let alone actually doing something about his recommendations.

In the next episode we'll take a look at Bomber Command and all the things that Mr Masters degree Mushroom clearly doesn't know about it.


I really must congratulate littlejim; you must be the first person to be offended by a Magic Mushroom post. His impeccable manners must be a constant source of irritation. I think that your most recent post has given your little game away, though; you just don't like Brits, do you?
The only thing I can comment on is ADGB, which up to 1944 was generally seen to be shared by the RAF and the Army. When the V1 offensive started everyone was caught out because Air Intelligence had assessed the V1 to fly slower and higher than it actually did. For about the first three weeks, until the Artillery units redeployed, the kill rate was in favour of the RAF, after that it was even. I don't think the RAF claimed to have beaten the V1 offensive but the public perception, because they could no longer hear the anti-aircraft guns, was that it was an RAF victory
Hello LJ,

littlejim said:
The very first words on your post was that I'd written absolute rubbish. This is your idea of not causing offence to contributors? This is your notion of good manners? That was not a degrading attack? Nor a personal attack? balls!

No. I consider my comments a robust challenge to a number of sweeping generalisations which I consider highly inaccurate and misleading. If you had used similar wording about my assertions I would not have taken offence. Indeed, such robust exchanges of views are fairly common in military environments. What is not common, and what I have never lowered myself to, is foul and abusive language, nor belittling an individual’s education when you do not know him personally. I would suggest that that is both very poor manners and unnecessary. That is why I had also assumed you were much younger than your years; I normally associate such language with less mature people and it says much about an individual’s nature.

I see in your last post that you have continued your somewhat condescending attitude. More disappointingly, I see you now see fit to insult my Nation via some fairly puerile language. I would reiterate that this does nothing to add to the debate and simply reduces your own credibility on the subject. Indeed, you seem to be confirming my original suspicions that your inaccurate representations may be based upon personal bias. Certainly your last post appeared particularly prejudiced.

Now, on with the debate!

Firstly, many thanks for pointing out my typo regarding the initial deployment of Spitfires to Malta. I did indeed mean March 1942 rather than March 1941.

Overall, you still appear in my opinion to be demonstrating shallow and biased analysis of the subject. I notice that you have chosen to give a stiff ignoring to many of the second and third order factors which I raised. I will therefore move on to the points you made yourself.

You suggest that failing to supply fighters to other theatres cost Britain its Empire. I would suggest once again that you are indulging in a sweeping generalisation on that point old chap. I do not believe that the RAF can be held at fault in this respect any more than the other services. That is certainly true of the Far East. Rather, as with most aspects of military actions since 1914, I would suggest that it was a Joint failing with all 3 services (and indeed UK Foreign Policy) demonstrating equal levels of arrogance and strategic inertia. The Army failed to appreciate that Singapore was susceptible to armoured assault from the North, or that jungle warfare could be so manoeuverist in nature. The RN failed to appreciate that their superiority in the region was waning and that their principle base was vulnerable. And yes, the RAF failed to learn the lessons of Japanese air power performance in China and Russia or place sufficient emphasis upon support to the other Components. Most of all, all 3 services failed to appreciate the need for Joint effects. I have never suggested otherwise.

Crating Spitfires up for shipment to Singapore is of course just the easy bit as far as operating a new type from a distant theatre is concerned. Logistics support has to be established. Aircrew and groundcrew all have to be trained, equipped and/or moved around the world at a time when Army personnel were being redeployed in large numbers. Aircraft and equipment has to be modified for tropical operations. What were the other priorities requested for the Theatre? What would have to be delayed to get the crated aircraft to the far reaches of the Empire? There is also the risk that the ships carrying the precious cargo will be lost to enemy submarine, surface or air action. Ultimately, we were not at war with Japan. Whilst Britain could see conflict coming, it and its Commonwealth Allies had placed too much store in the impregnable nature of its Empire and arguably that US Naval power would offset RN commitments in the Atlantic and Med.

At a time when Fighter Command was still recovering from the Battle of Britain, Malta and North Africa was being challenged, and the public was clamouring for a response to Axis aggression closer to home, Singapore was never going to get Spitfires. The priority at that time was I’d suggest calming domestic fears and improving morale by being seen to take the fight to German forces. Meanwhile, this would provide a stable base on which to conduct Maritime and offensive operations and training of personnel for all theatres. Indeed, I would argue that a stable homeland is fairly fundamental to being able to conduct any operations around the world whilst administering what remained of the Empire. As you acknowledge yourself, Malaya and Singapore were doomed to occupation with or without Spitfires. Possibly we would not have been pushed back to India, but even that is debateable so superior were the Japanese in exploiting the topography of the region, and so greatly had the myth of the invincible Japanese warrior seized the Allies.

Similarly, I would question your assertion that the Luftwaffe enjoyed ‘air superiority’ over North Africa for ‘years’. Marseille was a highly gifted pilot although his claims have been questioned by a number of sources including Galland. But such scores are fairly meaningless in this debate given the way the Luftwaffe employed their aircrew. Do you also consider that the scores achieved by Hartmann, Barkhorn, Rall et al mean that the Luftwaffe enjoyed similar air superiority over the Eastern Front?

In reality, the Germans were able to achieve locally favourable air situations and at times superiority. However, in a wider context the German air support in North Africa was significantly degraded by late 1942. I would suggest that this was primarily due to a combination of RAF and RN actions from Malta against Axis convoys. However, the RAF (ably assisted by the FAA) was equally able to obtain localised air superiority and achieved significant success against the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica in Africa and the Med. The exceptionally successful ALI which was gradually established between the RAF and Army was only possible because of that air superiority. Meanwhile, RAF Spitfires, Beaufighters and Mosquitoes carried out increasingly successful sweeps and intruder ops against Sicily from Malta which further hampered reinforcement of North Africa. It could be argued that these are further factors which you appear to have either failed to appreciate, or chosen to ignore.

Turning now to the RAF’s use of American designs. Clearly such types were important from the outset of war. The US designed some superb aircraft of which the DC-2/3/C-47 is a fine example. Equally however, US fighter design lagged at the outbreak of war and deployment of types such as the P-39 and P-40 in Europe, the Med, Africa and the Pacific bear mute testament to that fact. Indeed, the USAAF had evaluated a MkI Spitfire (in 1940 iirc) and concluded that it was inferior to the P-40 series. Moreover, the USAAF adopted several UK types such as the Spitfire, Beaufighter and Mosquito for a variety of tasks for which they had either not envisaged a requirement or had only inferior equivalents. Swings and roundabouts.

You mention Portal’s refusal to believe that a credible long range fighter could be designed. Of course, one officer’s opinion (no matter how high in the command chain) on one specific subject does not mean that the entire Service is at fault. I could find many similar assertions from US military leaders which were proved equally wrong as the war progressed. You mention the success of the P-51. Would this be the same aircraft which was of limited utility until a British Merlin engine was substituted for the Allison? Would this be the same aircraft that, when modified by the RAF, the Vice CAS lobbied hard for the USAAF to trial? Was this the same aircraft which the RAF presented 2 Merlin engined variants to the USAAF in Europe to prove their point?

Equally, the US lagged enormously behind the UK in EW and navigation such as AI and ground mapping radar, SIGINT, radio navigation systems, ECM and ESM. Like jet engine technology, virtually all WWII USAAF EW capabilities owed their existence to British technological expertise. Certainly, I can find no evidence of Bulgaria having been similarly influential to the technological evolution of Air Power. :D

Looking specifically at transport aircraft, I would concur that failure to develop a more credible Air Transport (AT) asset during the 1930s was an error. Neither the RAF nor the Army saw particular utility for such a type, or in parachute operations. Holland and Crete changed that (together with our views on glider assault). However, the UK had already acknowledged the excellent DC-2 and procured a small number. Recognising US production capacity to provide the Dakota appears to me to be a fairly sensible option in ensuring Allied aircraft production was more coherent.

In terms of supply dropping, I would contend again that the Joint RAF/Army operations during the Burma and Arakan Campaign were the supreme example in WWII of such operations. Yes it mostly involved US designed AT aircraft. But the doctrine, methods and procedures were British and, I would suggest, matched or exceeded anything the US achieved in this Air Power specialisation.

Dive bombers! I contend that their success was mixed in WWII. Where a locally favourable air situation could be obtained, they were extremely useful in delivering precise kinetic effect. Early German Stuka and later USN Dauntless operations are such an example. However, when faced by credible defences, they were routinely cut to shreds unless escorted. The Stukas experience in the Battle of Britain and later Japanese dive bombing operations bear this out. Interestingly, whilst you are keen to highlight the success of RN Skuas in sinking the Koningsberg in Bergen (the first occasion a major surface combatant was sunk by Air Power and dive bombers), you fail to mention the same sqns subsequent fate. Of the 15 aircraft which attacked the Scharnhorst at Trondheim in June 1940, 8 were shot down.

Whilst the RAF employed Vultee Vengeance dive bombers in Burma with considerable success, and the USAAF and Free French employed the A-24 in various theatres, most air forces viewed ground attack aircraft as more versatile. Certainly, from an RAF perspective, CAS provided by Beaufighters, Hurricanes, Spitfires and Thunderbolts proved equally precise and effective in Burma. Moreover the Vengeance’s relatively long take off run largely precluded its use in forward jungle strips. Was the balance correct in the Far East? I think it could be debated either way but a fighter bombers advantage of being able to self escort, use more varied tactics, employ terrain masking and be applied to wider tasks swings it for me. That is perhaps why relatively few nations maintained widespread dive bomber tactics during WWII.

In summary LJ, I maintain that your original sweeping generalisations are not reflected by fact and I believe that your arguments remain unconvincing. I do not suggest that the RAF nor the allocation of resources was perfect. Equally, some of the points you raise are valid. However, no service was blameless during arguably the most dangerous period in the UK’s history. Significantly, the more you write, the more it appears that your own personal prejudices against my Service and my Nation are distorting your understanding of the period. This appears to limit your analysis of wider factors significantly.

I suspect therefore that you will continue to believe that the RAF is responsible for every unfortunate incident from the dinosaurs being wiped out by an inconveniently located celestial body to the current global economic crisis. I look forward to your next post LJ. I would however once again encourage you to leave the puerile personal and national insults for the NAAFI.

If you can discipline yourself to set aside your own prejudices, this debate may be a little more constructive old chap.

Best wishes,
Magic_Mushroom said:
... You mention Portal’s refusal to believe that a credible long range fighter could be designed. ... You mention the success of the P-51. Would this be the same aircraft which was of limited utility until a British Merlin engine was substituted for the Allison? Would this be the same aircraft that, when modified by the RAF, the Vice CAS lobbied hard for the USAAF to trial? Was this the same aircraft which the RAF presented 2 Merlin engined variants to the USAAF in Europe to prove their point?

Pushing the point a bit further: wasn't the Mustang originally designed and built by the US for us, to our specification and at our request?
WaltOnTheMildSide said:
Magic_Mushroom said:
... You mention Portal’s refusal to believe that a credible long range fighter could be designed. ... You mention the success of the P-51. Would this be the same aircraft which was of limited utility until a British Merlin engine was substituted for the Allison? Would this be the same aircraft that, when modified by the RAF, the Vice CAS lobbied hard for the USAAF to trial? Was this the same aircraft which the RAF presented 2 Merlin engined variants to the USAAF in Europe to prove their point?

Pushing the point a bit further: wasn't the Mustang originally designed and built by the US for us, to our specification and at our request?

Indeed it was. The British Purchasing Commission originally wanted North American Aviation to licence-build P-40s. The boys at NAA reckoned they could do better and came up with the original (Allison-engined) Mustang in record time. It entered service with the RAF in the tactical reconnaissance/army co-operation role in 1942.

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