The honours in the Battle of Britain have tended to go exclusively to Fighter Command. Yet other commands, particularly Bomber Command played an important part in the contest. Furthermore, Bomber Command suffered much higher casualties in 1940 than did Fighter Command. From July till the end of the year, Bomber Command suffered the loss of 1400 aircrew and lost 330 planes. This reflected the fact that the average bomber carried 4 to 5 aircrew so that each plane suffered much higher casualties than Fighter Command when the loss of a single fighter incurred the maximum of 1 pilot killed. But, of course, many RAF pilots shot down survived to fight another day.
The targets for Bomber Command in 1940 were, first, the canals in Western Europe down which the barges requisitioned for the cross Channel invasion were travelling. Secondly, once the barges had arrived in the Channel ports, they became a target as they lay berthed waiting to play their part in ‘Sealion’, Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain.
The canals represented a vast target. There were thousands of miles of such waterways in Western Europe. Nevertheless, Bomber Command managed to block the Dortmund/Ems canal so effectively that virtually the whole waterway system of Western Europe was paralysed for a week. Unfortunately, it was only for a week as the impact of this amazingly accurate bit of bombing was cleared in a few days.
However, the barges, once they were located in the Channel ports, were much more vulnerable. As a target they were easy to find. Moreover, once hit they tended to burn. One RAF pilot observing the effect of Bomber Command’s attack on the Channel Ports described the sight of the fires generated by the bombing as being reminiscent of pre-war Blackpool illuminations, so enormous were the fires. It was said that on some nights, the fires were visible from the south coast of Britain.
The Bomber Command success was all the more remarkable considering the aircraft the RAF were flying. They were all twin-engined aircraft, originally designed for use by day. They were the Wellington, Hampden and Whitley bombers. These attacks represented the Command’s first taste of real war. Nonetheless, they were all approaching obsolescence. When it came to mounting a serious onslaught on Germany, it wasn’t until the advent of the 4 engined bomber fleets that really serious damage was done. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1940, the Command completed a remarkably successful role.
Their final achievement was to bomb Berlin in response to what turned out to be an error by the Luftwaffe when London was bombed in July. When Hitler heard about it, he was furious. Nevertheless Churchill seized the opportunity to use the occasion to bomb Berlin. This really upset the Fuhrer. He, in response, ordered the bombing of London. This resulted in a switch in tactics. It gave up bombing 11 Group airfields south of London and on September 7thlaunched its whole strength against London. The Luftwaffe was going to try and repeat what it had done to Warsaw and Rotterdam but this time against Britain’s metropolis. So it can be said that it was Bomber Command that caused this fatal switch in the Luftwaffe’s attack on Britain. The Command had, by bombing Berlin, initiated the move which virtually saved Fighter Command. By provoking this fatal change, Bomber Command had gone a long way to helping Britain to win the Battle of Britain.