F. The Dominions and the RAF’s Air War against Germany
(a) The Origins of the ‘Empire Air Training Scheme’ (EATS)
As indicated above, a mere one hour 15 minutes after Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939, Robert Menzies, Australia’s Prime Minister, announced that ‘consequently’ Australia too was at war. On September 8, Britain’s Dominions Office cabled its requirements for military assistance, and by mid October Menzies had stated his government’s sympathy with the idea of an ‘Empire Air Training Scheme’ to supply Britain with aircrew from Australia. In fact, as explained in John McCarthy’s highly informative monograph, “A Last Call of Empire: Australian Aircrew, Britain and the Empire Air Training Scheme”, for Britain it was not a new idea, for as a contingency it had had such a scheme in mind since the end of WWI. And in 1939, Foreign Minister Eden had claimed that Britain itself would be able to train only half the 50,000 aircrew it expected to ‘use’ each year. On October 5, the Australian Cabinet gave in-principle approval, following which Menzies announced “It is no wonder that at this hour of suspense, or real peril, and of supreme effort, Great Britain should have turned to her children, the dominions, and to us perhaps not least of all.” (JMcC, 16)
To negotiate the agreement’s details, a meeting was called for late October in Ottawa. Leader of the British delegation was Lord Riverdale, the Sheffield steel magnate who as Sir Arthur Balfour, is known to have supported Germany’s rearmament from Hitler’s earliest days in power.(see 8A(b); also N-B1, 125) Canada was represented by Mackenzie King and other senior ministers, Australia by the 43-year old J.V.Fairbairn who had just received his first portfolio as Minister for Civil Aviation and Air.(JMcC, 17)
On October 31, Lord Riverdale outlined Britain’s needs. Twenty thousand pilots plus 30,000 other aircrew, some 9,000 pilots and 13,000 observers to come from the UK, the rest (near 60%) to come from the Dominions. All advanced training to be in Canada, and of the estimated total costs of 888,500,000 Pounds Sterling, Britain would ‘contribute’ training aircraft and equipment to the value of 140,000,000 Pounds, the balance to be met by Canada (359,000,000) Australia (300,000,000) and New Zealand (89,000,000). The Dominions’ governments, prime among them Canada, were aghast. As a most experienced ‘committee man’, quick-thinking Riverdale promptly called for a large British order of Canadian wheat. Although Australia had also objected, after three weeks of wrangling Fairbairn signed the agreement on November 27, 1939. What ‘Australia’ had agreed to was a 4-weekly output of 432 pilots, 226 observers and 392 wireless operator-air gunners, all to be available for service with the RAF, all training costs (other than aircraft) to be met by Australia.
Although in Australia’s case, two RAAF squadrons, 450 and 467, along with Coastal Command’s No.10 squadron, were to remain Australian in name (though usually not in command) (JMcC, 26) all other aircrews would be integrated with the RAF. Indeed, it was British policy to avoid Dominion-identified and -commanded squadrons and thus to prevent Dominions governments from having any say in developing or altering British air-war strategy.(JMcC, 24-5) That was much to the distress of the Canadians who later had some success in negotiating limited control of RCAF squadrons. And under an agreement signed on April 17, 1941, Canada was entitled to 25 Dominion-designated squadrons, Australia 18, and New Zealand 6, - ‘details to be sorted out’ over the following 18 months! (JMcC, 26)
Despite the apparent advance in joint decision-making, the final outcome was as indicated by the situation at war’s end when by April 1945, while 1,488 Australians were said to be ‘serving in RAAF squadrons’, 10,532 were still simply ‘attached to the RAF’. Indeed, with regard to the squadron they served in, the types of operations carried out, (including the nature and timing of specific operations) all such ‘attached’ personnel were under the complete control of the RAF. Not only could RAAF authorities not play any role in making (or modifying) decisions but very commonly London’s RAAF headquarters was not informed of RAF decisions. As McCarthy noted, in the Second World War RAAF-designated squadrons operating from the United Kingdom flew “….65,841 sorties. Not one kilometre, not a single sortie, had been endorsed by the Australian government or air staff.” (JMcC, 26,29)
Symbolic of the underlying realities, the first ‘recruit’ into EATS, his role to manage it in Australia, was the RAF’s Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles Burnett, appointed from February 1940 by Australia’s Air Minister, Fairbairn during the 1939 Ottawa meeting. And since Menzies wanted a British Chief of Air Staff, Whitehall and the RAF had control of RAAF-EATS aircrew from the very outset. At that stage the RAAF had fewer than 160 training aircraft. And to train the 20,000 aircrew sought by March 1943 it would need at least 30 yet-to-be-established training schools.(JMcC, 30-2) As ever, answering their Country’s ‘call to service’ and further attracted through their youthful sense of adventure, many young Australians from all social strata came forward to volunteer.(JMcC, 33-9) EATS aircrew trainees received the longest, most arduous and exacting training ever given to any volunteer force. Indeed, its overall failure rate was over 30%. By March 1945, a total of 27,387 Australian aircrew trainees had graduated through the EATS program.(JMcC, 59)
Initial selection was followed by enlistment as LAC2s. Next, their induction through an Initial Training School (maths, physics, meteorology, Morse-code, basic drills, etc). After this, successful trainees were mustered into training schools according to future aircrew roles, - pilot, observer, wireless-operator/air-gunner, etc. Then, over the following 12 months, off to a series of specialised training schools before final graduation as NCOs or officers. In many cases further training occurred in Canada before travelling to the UK and squadron posting. There, serving NCOs, if considered worthy, might be promoted to officers, an important matter dealt with below. (see alsoJMcC,49)
(b) EATS, and the Defence of Australia – Any connection?
As one may well ask, if the EATS program could help Britain early in the war in its ‘hour of need’ when subject to German air attack and possible invasion, might it not also have assisted Australia later in its defence against the threatened invasion by Japan? In December 1939, Menzies had claimed that Australian expenditure on the scheme would stimulate the local aircraft industry and produce aircrew to add to the Commonwealth’s defence needs. In May 1940, Fairbairn claimed the RAAF would possess “…more than 1200 service aircraft with a very great striking capacity”. (JMcC, 63) and by mid 1941, John McEwen the new Minister for Air, was stressing the “…1600 per cent increase in Australia’s air power…”. Yet, in January 1942, with Japanese invasion imminent, Curtin revealed that Australia possessed no fighter or bomber aircraft at all, but only 29 twin-engine reconnaissance Hudsons, 14 Catalinas and just 10 Beaufort torpedo bombers. All the rest were various types of training plane used to prepare Australian aircrews for European theatre use by the RAF.(JMcC, 62, 64)
Indeed, it has to be emphasised that the 1939 EATS Agreement was designed specifically to supply Dominions’ aircrew to the RAF. Thus, its terms precluded EATS trainees from being employed in Australia’s home-defence squadrons. Moreover, since the agreement stated no limit on the duration of service with the RAF, there existed no provision for ‘right of recall’ to Australia. In any case, without significant numbers of operational aircraft, withholding or recalling Australia’s trained aircrew would have to be of limited value for their country’s own defence.(JMcC, 63)
In December 1939, Australia’s Air Board had urged a crash program for aircraft production, - not just for training planes, (e.g., Tiger Moths and Wirraways) but for Beaufort torpedo bombers and a twin-engine bomber-reconnaissance aircraft such as the Mosquito that the De Havilland Company had recommended for production in Australia. But by the end of 1941, aside from 1309 ‘trainers’, only the above-mentioned 10 Beauforts had been produced. In June 1940, Cabinet approved the RAAF’s expansion to 32 squadrons but, notwithstanding that by December 1941, 6,472 Australian aircrew were serving abroad with the RAF, attempts over the following 18 months to have Australia’s orders for British aircraft filled met with no success. Indeed, the British view was very clear. As its Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, wrote to his Minister for Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook,”…we must see that the Dominions do not strip us of everything”. (JMcC, 64-5)
On December 9, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the Curtin government suspended sailings of EATS trainees. However, in view of the gross lack of operational aircraft at home, that decision was reversed just 6 weeks later. Understandably Australia’s predicament was greatly disturbing to many EATS trainees abroad since they very much wanted to return to defend their own country. (DC, 31; JMc C, 65, 67-8) It was a response that strengthened over the following months as the Japanese threat to Australia heightened, but aside from expressed concerns by many of our young RAAF boys in Canada and the UK, all went ahead according to the original British Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) program.
On arrival in England, EATS graduates were lodged at ‘Personnel Reception and Disposal Units’, during which time they were assigned to one of the four RAF Commands:- Fighter, Bomber, Coastal, or Army Cooperation. Sadly, the vast majority went to Bomber Command. Following assignment, they progressed to an Advanced Flying School before being posted to an Operational Training Unit, - one linked to their assigned Command, - where ‘crewing up’ occurred. Characteristically crews were, in varying proportions, mixed British and Dominions personnel. By RAF policy design, even in so-called RAAF squadrons, all-Australian crews were rare.(JMcC, 70-88)
(c) Air Operations, Europe
While Australians served in almost all RAF squadrons in every European and Middle East operational theatre, the great majority were based in Britain within Bomber Command. Command service began as a ‘tour’ of operations. For Coastal Command that was defined as 800 hours of operational flying. For Fighter, and Army Cooperation Commands it was 200 hours, equivalent to about 80 sorties.(JMcC, 95) Bomber Command’s tour, originally 200 flying hours, later became ‘30 sorties’ plus, after a rest, an obligatory second tour of 20 more. When the Canadians proposed that Dominion crews should be returned for ‘home leave’ on completion of their first tour, the RAF deemed that ‘not acceptable’.
For Bomber Command crews, the time to complete 30 sorties, commonly some 10 months, could be anything from 8 to 13. Also variable, was the time taken for individual sorties – anything from 4 to 10 hours. During sorties, there were multiple life-threatening hazards over and above those of flying Bomber Command’s aircraft at night, the usual time of RAF operations. That this circumstance alone was hazardous is shown by the fact that night-time air accidents during operational training resulted in the deaths of 617 Australians, another 318 injured. Needless to say, far greater additional hazards occurred during operational sorties.(JMcC, 97, 100-05)
German fighter attack was a major hazard, anti-aircraft flak another, the weather yet another, particularly when already exhausted and not infrequently wounded crews returned in damaged planes to fog-bound airfields. For RAF/government policy reasons, whenever such conditions resulted in aircraft crashes and fatalities not the immediate result of enemy action, they were classed as ‘accidents’, such causing the loss of 6,000 lives every year of the war. For example, while 4,159 Australians serving with the RAF between December 1941 and March 1944, were killed ‘on operations’, a further 2,166 died from ‘accidents’.(JMcC, 102)
And what were the chances of you surviving even your first tour? The greatest consumer of aircraft and crew was Bomber Command; thus of the 74,797 RAF operations-caused deaths that occurred between 1939 and 1945, over 60% were in Bomber Command. The aircraft loss rate per sortie was about 5%, so your chances of surviving a tour of 30 sorties was 1 in 4, 25%. But because of the ‘obligation’ to undertake a second tour of 20 sorties, your chances of surviving the total of 50 sorties was just 1 in 14.(JMcC, 107) Since most Australians serving with the RAF were assigned to Bomber Command, that was their prospect . This applied at least until late 1943, by which time the EATS program had trained such a vast surplus of all musterings that Arthur Harris, Bomber Command’s Chief, reversed his absolute insistence on the second tour. Yet, since the rule itself remained, about a half of aircrew still went on to that second tour. (for Fighter Command, see JMcC, 106)
The hazards of Coastal Command were not necessarily better and could be worse. – depending on particular squadron assignments and types of operation. Crews on flying boats doing 1,000-hour tours in 1943 had a 40% chance of survival. Yet, a 500-hour photo-reconnaissance tour gave only a 11% survival chance and on a torpedo-bomber squadron only 4% survived a 300-hour tour.(JMcC, 108) Some squadrons doing long-range anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic had a dismal survival record. For reasons not entirely clear that applied to No.53, my brother Allan’s squadron which, like a number of others, operated from St.Eval in Cornwall during 1943 and 1944. From a squadron strength of 21 operational aircraft (each with crew of ten) 16 were lost between July, 1943 and November, 1944, - 13 within the year (July 1943 - July 1944), a loss rate near double that of many other Coastal Command squadrons.(personal communication, Jock Manson, 53 Squadron Historian)
(d) Ill-Used Australian Aircrew
For reasons given above as well as the following, one must seriously raise this issue. As we have seen, Australia was quick not only to support Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, but to commit its young men to Britain’s air war. As Bomber Command chief, Sir Arthur Harris said, “The training scheme has been the kernel of our air power. Without it we would have been nowhere, with everything in the shop window and no reserves on the shelves.” (JMcC, 119) (Reserves? - an odd term since these Dominions’ crews were not just there as ‘reserves’, but were fully used throughout!) Indeed, Harris’ view is confirmed by Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, Britain’s official historians of the air war, who judged the EATS program a vital component of the UK’s ability to man its air force, especially for its ‘area-bombing’ attacks on Germany.(W&Fiii, 285, 300) And one should recall here that it was these aerial attacks which Churchill claimed were, from 1941 to June 1944, Britain’s major contribution to ‘winning the war against Germany’. (c.f., 9E© above)
Yet, although often promised, when Australia itself, under direct threat of Japanese invasion looked for help from Britain, it was absent. Indeed it remained absent long after there was any conceivable material bar to such assistance. Thus, even leaving aside that potentially catastrophic neglect throughout 1942, - when in June 1943 Australia requested a moderate number of heavy bombers (reduced by Curtin in October 1943 to ‘at least two Australian (article XV) Lancaster squadrons’ for its Pacific operations, Winston Churchill and RAF chief, Sir Charles Portal denied heavy bombers of any kind. As Churchill noted, ”I don’t see much in this.” (JMcC, 122) Indeed, in December 1943, Portal insisted that Australia “…fulfil as far as she possibly can the obligation under the EATS and for the formation of Article 15 squadrons. We cannot agree to any transfers of complete squadrons to the SWPA from British theatres of responsibility and the return of trained men can only take place on completion of a tour with the RAF.” (!) (JMcC, 123)
The underlying reason for these attitudes comes out in Portal’s comments to his Vice Chief of Air Staff at the time, “Nothing must be done (which might) detract from the effort in Europe nor to reduce Australia’s personnel commitment to the Royal Air Force.” As RAAF historian, Alan Stephens, recorded, “His (i.e., Portal’s) solution was elegant. Plain logic dictated that the fewer aircraft the RAAF was given for its own use, the fewer aircrew the Australian Government could demand to have sent home from England. Simply by controlling aircraft allocation the RAF controlled the RAAF.” (Dr Alan Stephens, historian, The Canberra Times’ ‘Panorama’, Oct.16, 2003, p.3 (AlS, 3-4)
We can only wonder at the self-serving brazenness of the above-cited UK-RAF attitudes. Indeed, these sadly-accepted unilateral decisions were all the more outrageous because at this very time, December 1943, the United Kingdom had at its disposal a vast surplus of its own trained aircrew! That first came to light officially in July 1943 when it was noted that the RAF had 945 more fighter pilots than aircraft. When Churchill called for a review, it was found that Bomber Command had a surplus of 338 complete crews. And by October 1943, Portal had to inform his Air Member for Personnel “The surplus of crews in Home Commands has now reached alarming proportions …… large crew surpluses exist not only in Fighter but in the other two Commands.” (JMcC, 123)
And yet at the very time that Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Portal was admitting (but only internally!) the existence of such surpluses and calling for their ‘urgent examination’ he was exhorting the Canadians to maintain “...at this critical stage of the war, the output of aircrew adequate to match the growing output of aircraft”. (JMcC, 124) But by April 1944 there was public concern and London’s Evening Standard was also pointing to the number of Englishmen who were waiting up to eighteen months on the same deferred lists for training as pilots, navigators and bomb aimers. Indeed, a month earlier, Lord Balfour, referred to these numbers as “….the manpower of two divisions ….locked up in our deferred lists for a year or more….” .(JMcC, 125)
By November 1944, projected needs of aircrew strength for RAF squadrons was 18,840, while at that very time it had on strength 53,240 plus a known surplus of pre-OTU aircrew in training.(JMcC, 125) It is all so very strange. Clearly the over-supply of aircrew had in fact been recognised by the RAF since December 1943 when it closed 8 of its training centres in Canada. Yet, as mentioned above, at that same time Portal was urging Australia to fulfil its aircrew supply ‘obligations’, 670 Australian aircrew still arriving in the UK every 4 weeks.(JMcC, 125-6) Thus it appears altogether reasonable to conclude that a clear policy existed for the use, whenever possible, of Dominions’ aircrew when replacing the ever-growing operational losses.
By June 1944 the build up in aircrew numbers in the UK was so great that without advance warning, Australia was advised by the UK Air Ministry that no further aircrew were needed! That suddenly left 16,666, mostly in transit through Canada, plus large numbers of part-trained aircrew in Australia – to fill a RAAF home establishment of 9,881 – and, even these still with too few operational aircraft for their needs.
Of course, for Australia there remained the war against Japan, but when in May, 1944, Curtin in London repeated his request for Australian Article XV squadrons to be sent home to serve in the Pacific, while at a Chiefs of Air Staff meeting he received Churchill’s encouragement that “…it should never be said that we were willing to accept the help of others in our own extremity but were unprepared to take our share of the troubles of others…”, not until April 1945 was it agreed that two Article XV squadrons could go the Pacific. But even then they were not destined for Australia’s RAAF use, but to be included in the 10 British bomber squadrons to be based on Okinawa.(JMcC, 126) It would be hard indeed to exaggerate the contempt implicit in this outcome - as in so many earlier decisions, policies and actions emanating from the UK
e) RAF Bomber Command and its Operations – (& see Official UK, US, Reports!)
Since most Australian aircrew sent to Britain ended up in RAF’s Bomber Command, I should say something about its role and ‘effectiveness’ as revealed in official UK and United States Survey Reports. As already indicated, until the opening of the Second European Front in June 1944, Bomber Command’s program was Britain’s principal effort towards ‘winning the war against Germany’. It is not in any sense a happy story, nor was it effective towards its stated aim.
It was claimed to have truly significant results in reducing Germany’s armaments production and morale, – both said to be aimed at shortening as well as winning the European war. Prior to 1942, various attempts were made to attain bombing accuracy against specific industrial targets in France, the Ruhr, etc. Since German fighter and anti-aircraft defences were so formidable in daylight, bombing was soon confined to the night hours. However, analysis of aerial photographs made clear that of those aircraft recorded as ‘attacking the target’, only one in ten got to within 5 miles, - only 1 in 15 if it was a full moon.(DS, 144) As the production of heavy bombers increased, it was decided by the ‘strategic air war’ planners to carry out area-bombing programs against broad industrial areas within Germany’s cities. So while few (if any) bombs would hit the industrial plants themselves, most would explode within the surrounding built-up areas - assumed to be occupied by factory workers and their families. And by killing them, maiming them, destroying their homes and generally disrupting their lives it was hoped to wreck their morale, their will to go on producing arms.(W&Fii, 235)
Well, from 1942 on, Bomber Command followed that British government approach. It was a program that was to expand greatly as more and more heavy bombers and young aircrew from Britain, Canada, Australia, NZ, etc., came ‘on stream’. As a result it became more and more ‘efficient’ in destroying larger and larger areas of German cities, killing and maiming greater and greater numbers of German men, women and children. From August 1942, the United States Air Force (USAF) joined the bombing campaign. While initially this was a small role, it expanded greatly from mid 1943. However, in contrast to the RAF’s approach the USAF maintained a policy of daylight precision bombing of specific targets.(for its effectiveness, see (f) below)
In contrast to that, the general plan for area bombing developed by the RAF not only continued, but was greatly amplified. This involved having ‘pathfinder’ aircraft leading the attack of hundreds of bombers, the pathfinders aiming to bomb as accurately as possible and light up the target for the others to bomb the general area. And to maximise the damage to property and civilians, it was not long before incendiary bombs were used to set fire to vast built up areas, thus generating ‘fire storms’, with flames so intense few would survive.
The first really ‘successful’ one of these involved Hamburg on the night of July 28, 1943. That resulted in the complete devastation of eight square miles of the city, thirty five thousand houses and apartments destroyed, 42,000 people killed and unknown numbers horribly burnt and otherwise injured. As Martin Gilbert points out, because of the number of the city’s itinerants, the full extent of casualties remains unknown, but must have included numbers of Allied prisoners and indented foreign workers on labour assignments.(MG2, 514-5) Many further such ‘triumphs’ were reported, including one on a German garrison in Le Havre in which 2,500 French civilians perished (MG2, 611-2) and others on Stuttgart – 1,171 killed; Heilbronn – 7,147 killed; Pforzheim, - 17,600 killed; and, late in the war, Dresden, with a death toll of at least 60,000.(MG2, 613-4; 627; 648; 641-2)
A broad indication of the ‘progress’ of such strategic bombing warfare is the increase in bomb tonnages dropped year by year through the war. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Overall Economic Effects Division, indicates the ‘phenomenal increase’ as follows. “In 1940, the RAF started out with an average monthly delivery of 1,128 tons which increased to almost 6,000 tons in 1942 when the USAAF joined the offensive. In 1943 the monthly tonnage was 26,000 tons, in 1944 it was 131,000 tons, and in 1945 170,000 tons.” (USSBS-Gm, 1)
To see first-hand the official versions of the effects of such bombing with respect to its stated aims of both winning and shortening the war (as well as its effects on the victims on both sides) read the Reports of the United States Strategic Bombing Surveys. These are available on the web as follows -
For European War: www.anesi.com/ussbs02.htm
For Pacific War: www.anesi.com/ussbs01.htm
The official British analysis on all this destruction, “The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany 1939-1945” carried out by its official historians, Sir Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, but not published until 1961, is altogether revealing.(seeW&Fii) As they recorded, the RAF’s 200,000 tons of bombs dropped on Germany in 1943 caused the deaths of some 200,000 people with far greater numbers injured, and the destruction of over 212,000 buildings. “Hamburg was devastated in a manner never before known…” and through the autumn and winter months Berlin was subjected to almost continuous assault and many other cities attacked “..with great success”.(W&Fii, 224) Indeed, as these authors put it, “The area attack of this period was deliberately aimed at the destruction of the principal cities of Germany. The object was, as has been seen, to destroy the entire centre of the cities, the housing, public utilities and communications to such an extent that their inhabitants would not be able to go on working. … it was the destruction of the living quarters of the towns which was the main object of the attack. The worker was to be deprived of the means of working by the devastation of his environment.” (W&Fii, 235)
And then comes the ‘punch line’ on the effectiveness of that vast devastation when we learn that with all this ‘success’, “It was natural that those in Britain who surveyed this unprecedented destruction should think that German armaments production must have been sensibly reduced and the morale of the German people, perhaps, fatally undermined.” But then follows, ”In fact, however, armaments production was not only maintained but much increased during the first half of 1943. It remained at that level, with a slight fall at the end, during the second half and then rose steeply again in the first half of 1944, reaching its peak about the middle of that year.” And, as to the effect on morale of the German and foreign (including coerced POW) workers, “….the refusal to accept defeat through anguish and terror must command respect and admiration.” (W&Fii, 224-5)
All this is confirmed in the earlier-published United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) analysis of 1945 which clearly indicated that the area-bombing program carried out by the RAF, including the many devastating raids throughout 1943 to mid 1944, while extremely destructive of cities, their buildings and populations, not only failed to prevent a steady increase in Germany’s armaments production but also failed to destroy the morale of the German people.(USSBS-Gm, see Summary) Perhaps that should not have been too surprising in view of the known defiance and determination shown by the British people in response to Germany’s earlier bombing of London, Coventry and other cities. And compounding the tragedy of all this counter-productive devastation and killing in Germany, is the human cost on the ‘bombing side’, the many tens of thousands of young aircrew casualties, some 55,888 being killed, a further 9,162 wounded (1,255 fatally) while serving in RAF’s Bomber Command. Of the killed, 38,792 were British, 9,913 Canadian, 4,037 Australian, 1,676 New Zealanders and 27 South African. (W&Fiii, 287) (John McCarthy, gives the total number of Australians killed while serving in all the RAF Commands- - quoting “War Report of the Chief of the Air Staff”, - as 6,979. (JMcC, 118, 159.)