Anglo-French bomber offensive 1939-40: good or bad idea?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by tomo pauk, Apr 1, 2013.

  1. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    How would FAF and RAF bombers fared in a daylight bomber offensive vs. Germany, undertaken prior the Phoney war? Assuming the bombers use French air bases as much as possible, the fighters providing cover as much as their range allows.
     
  2. FalkeEins

    FalkeEins Member

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    terrible idea.....the French did actually send a single Farman 223 against Berlin during June 1940 - from Bordeaux! I doubt the Germans even noticed it..

    The French Bomb Berlin - Blinkynet
     
  3. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    The basic idea may be good the execution might leave a lot to be desired.

    The British and French having to work out the actual tactics/techniques of escorting. They couldn't even seem to co-ordinate escorts for tactical targets.
    I don't believe there was any technical reason it could not be done but it needed a number of months of actual practice/training/exercises before actually being tried in combat without large losses.
     
  4. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    Care to elaborate why it's a terrible idea?
    Bombing Berlin, while the juicy Daimler Benz factory is just 100 km away from Rhine, now that's a terrible idea.
     
  5. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Remember, The Netherlands and Belgium are still Neutral, which means long detours from the UK or go through the very small French-German border, which could be easily defended. I don't think a large scale bombing campaign was possible in '39-'40. Especially taking into account the material the had to do this with. The results of the large bomber offensive later in the war are already under debate. And wimpeys and Hampdens regularily got slaughtered in the first 2 years.
     
  6. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    How would the Germans defend the aerial border?

    It would be cool if someone has data about bombers on hand, for the time period, for the French and British...

    It will be for some time :)

    The LW fighters did not have any escorts that would contest them. The presumption of the thread is that RAF and FAF both undertake offensive, not just RAF, and not 500 miles from the bases.
     
  7. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    As early as December 1940 the RAF (Whitleys) suffered catastrophic,50%, losses in an attack on ships at Willhelmshaven. It was a pattern that was repeated in other early raids. Combined with reconnaissance revealing little or no damage was being done to the intended targets this may have had a salutary effect upon RAF planners.
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  8. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    I'm not sure that attacking Willhelmshaven from airbases located in France will be such a great idea, there is far more of far lucrative targets in southern half of Germany.
     
  9. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #9 stona, Apr 1, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
    The RAF was limited to strictly military targets at the time. It was only after the Luftwaffe's attack on Rotterdam (May 1940) that it was authorised to attack targets East of the Rhine. After this attacks in some strength did take place,but by night. The vulnerability of the bombers had already been established. The problem now was that they couldn't find,let alone hit,their targets.

    There were political considerations earlier. The French were very keen not tp provoke a Luftwaffe attack on French cities.

    Cheers
    Steve
     
  10. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    #10 Capt. Vick, Apr 1, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
    IIRC during the attack on Poland, Germany had stripped her western defenses to almost nothing. A calculated gamble on the part of Germany that both the French and British (with 20/20 hindsight) should have taken advantage of either by using troops or, as in the case of this thread, with aerial bombardment. Sure they were not trained for it, but if they had realized the full scope of Mr. Hilter’s ambitions and had not been haunted as much by the ghosts of the past, then maybe, just maybe they could have delivered enough of a bloody nose to delay, if not stop, this maniac.
     
  11. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Did Britain and France build strategic bombers as airfield decorations or were they intended for war fighting purposes? If they were intended for fighting then they should be used starting the day Britain and France declare war on Germany.
     
  12. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    The newly completed West Wall border defense system was fully manned during September 1939. When France invaded the Saar it worked as advertised.
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Ground offensive wise, the french were caught short in their mobilization, with final preparations not completed until the end of october. The regular Army consisted of about 60 Divs, with incomplete TOEs and more than 20 divs on garrsion duty in the colonies. less than 10 divs, about half of them static "fotress" commands, were on duty at the Franco-German border. There were shortages of artillery shells, heavy artillery needed to breach the westwall and MT all of which were needed to make meaningful inroads into the Saar. The actual borders had been drawn at the end of the Napoleonic wars and were designed to curtail any French offensives through the obvious invasion routes of the Saar Gap. They were still very effective at that 124 years later.

    The french were heavily outnumbered by the German garrison at the start and it took about 2 weeks for that situation to be addressed. By the time the French were ready, in 1939, it was all hopelessly too late. The Germans and their apologist friends, have made much since the war of the failure of the french to attack, but this, like so many other things german, is a total lie. if anyone had legitimate fears of invasion to worry about, it was the french in 1939.

    As for the british, they could have contributed perhaps the better part of a single division for a quick offensive in 1939. There were 6 regular divs in England, but 5 of them were unfit for front line offensive operations. Historically it was the end of Septemeber before the first elements of the BEF began their passage across the channel. in the meantime, the one ready division was needed to assist the other 5 in mobilzation. 4, or possibly 6, divs from the reserves (the territorials) were also readied for battle. The Briish call up was incomplete and messy, only 1 in 50 eligible males had been called to the colours by the end of 1939, in France it was 1 in 8.

    As for a projected bomber offensive from french airbases, the french historically steadfastly refused permission for such a move. assuming they changed their minds, there simply was not the numbers to implement such a strategy. The idea of escorted raids would have taken time to develop, most in France and Britain (and to a large extent Germany as well) still believed in the lessons learned in the Spanish Civil War, In that war, the fast German bombers had operated with large levels of impunity, flying unescorted to the target, and suffering light losses because of their high speed compared to the fighters. The French had about 200 multi-engined bombers, most of them obsolete, whilst the British had about 400 or so suitable bombers (not inlcuding types like the Battle....Blenheims are included, but there were not enough crews combat ready to put more than a token force into battle from such an early stage).

    An early offensive from French bases was essentially a pipe dream...on land or by air, and the french in particular had more to lose and risk from an early offensive than they had to gain. The longer that real fighting could be delayed, the better the odds for the allies. French plans were hoping for a quiet 1940, and expected to be ready for limited offensive operations from early 1941. They never got what they were hoping for.
     
  14. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    http://bunkersite.com/locations/germany/saarland/bwerk-1.php
    bwerk-1.jpg

    West Wall bunkers such as this one defeated French invasion of Germany during September 1939. French artillery and tank cannon couldn't punch through 1.5 meters of reinforced concrete.

    Why didn't RAF and French Air Force drop a few 2,000lb AP bombs on the roof? That should make life easier for French combat engineers trying to breach the German minefield.
     
  15. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    That too is a misrepresentation of the Saar offensive. the french never attacked the fortification, and the germans never defended the few kilometres of teritory in front of the line. The germans withdrew, and the french occupied. what stopped the "offensive" was the dense belts of minefileds, not the bunker defences. the French had no significanct mine clearance capability in 1939, something that the wehrmacht was aware of and exploited to the fullest.
     
  16. bob44

    bob44 Member

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    I believe the British and French where more in a defensive situation that early in the war. Plus, one did not drop bombs on cities or civilian areas at that time. The Germans probably wished that the French or British would have bombed a German city, giving them (the Germans) a reason to bomb French and British and later Belgium, Dutch cities.
     
  17. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    West Wall bunkers were not located in cities and contained no civilians.
     
  18. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Did the RAF and the French AF have 2000lb AP bombs in 1939?

    The RAF had the 1900lb GP bomb, which was about 25%-35% explosives.
     
  19. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    They were built for the same purpose as the thousands of ICBMs built during the cold war and never used......as a deterrent. When the bluff was called they didn't work as envisaged. The Whitleys,Hampdens,Battles and even Wellingtons were not up to the task and neither were there crews.

    Nonetheless in 1939 the British had extensive and detailed plans for their bomber force to operate from the UK . A quick look at the specifications from the Air Ministry for various bomber types will confirm this. There were sixteen "Western Air Plans" which had originated from a combined services planning section in 1936.
    The main assumptions of the planners were that the Germans would commence offensive operations with intense bombing raids on the UK or a land offensive through France and Belgium. War Plans 1,4 and 5 covered these eventualities. If the German bombers attacked the UK then Bomber Command would attack their airfields. If the Wermacht attacked France then Bomber Command would attack the lines of supply to the land battle. Both these were attempted,belatedly,in 1940. The final plan was for strategic raids on German war industries,particularly oil refineries and storage depots. This was off the cards in 1939 and half of 1940 for political reasons.
    There was NO plan for a German invasion of Poland,700 miles away from Bomber Commands airfields.

    It was President Roosevelt who called on all combatants to refrain from bombing undefended towns or targets where civilians might be hit. Britain and France agreed and gave assurances immiediately. Germany followed on 18th September 1939 as the Polish campaign was drawing to a close and it suited her.

    As the Wermacht moved from West to East,into Poland, it was almost impossible to identify purely military targeys and the RAF was only permitted to attack naval vessels (but not those alongside a wharf where civilian workers might be hit) and to make leaflet drops.

    That President Roosevelt's truce held is shown by the figures below.

    During the phoney war,the 219 days from 3rd September 1939 to 9th April 1940 Bomber Command flew only 1,527 sorties and lost 48 aircraft (4.8%). That's only an average of 7 sorties per 24 hour period. They scattered a little over 70 tons of bombs around the European countryside and in the sea.

    Contrast that with operations after the Luftwaffe had bombed Rotterdam (14th May 1940) and the gloves came off.

    The first 100+ bomber raid was on the night of 15/16 May,at the end of the phoney war or "sitzkrieg" and immiediately after restrictions on bombing East of the Rhine were lifted.

    In the 47 days between 10th May to 25/26th June 1940 Bomber Command flew operations on 41 days and 46 nights. They flew 5,085 sorties and lost 145 aircraft (2.9%) of which 92 on 1,601 daylight sorties (5.7%) and 53 on 3,484 night time sorties (2.9%)
    It's not difficult to see why night time operations would become the norm.

    The self imposed military limitations and political considerations were all aimed at avoiding an escalation. You are all using hindsight again. You must try to imagine the mindset of these 1930s commanders and the fear of the potential devastation the bombers could cause. There were numerous commitees and reports in the UK in the 1930s which gave their pessimistic assessments of the disastrous results of a bombing campaign against British cities. It's why the British,French and even the Germans heeded Roosevelt's plea for restraint.
    It was only after it was seen that one side were abandoning their own self imposed restrictions that the bombers were let of the leash.

    Adolph Hitler was a great caller of bluffs.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  20. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

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    The French and British air forces had bombers and could carry significant loads from France into western Germany so yes they could have chosen to work up a bomber offensive. But not enough to have a decisive effect if used at night with minimal accuracy.

    In daylight they could achieve worthwhile accuracy but at the cost of high losses.

    So, given that the offensive would need to be in daylight to have effect, the only purpose could be to draw the Luftwaffe fighter force into combat as a campaign of attrition. The RAF were working up a most effective aircrew training system but this would not fully come on line until later in 1941. The French were unable to crew all the aeroplanes they had and had scarcely any visible training strategy to expand for the future.

    Night bombing would fail through inaccuracy. Daylight bombing would fail without heavy fighter support through losses. As an attrition campaign bait it would fail as there were not enough aircrew to keep it all going.

    The conclusion must be that, in 1939-40, there were better uses for bombers than an Anglo-French strategic bombing offensive over Germany.

    The real debate could be how they might be used. For myself I would divert RAF 'heavy' bombers into coastal support and minelaying. For the French they would have to bomb at night and select their targets on navigability grounds rather than military-economic ones. Preferably near the border to maximise loads and minimise time over Germany. I would suggest that, were a military target of sufficient importance identified, then a small bomber force with massive fighter support be used in daylight but experience suggests that co-ordinating this was beyond the existing staff.
     
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