Bomber crews in WW2 dropping short

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Tech Sergeant
Apr 6, 2005
I have been reading again about the air war over Germany in WW2. The fight between the RAF and LW is fascinating tho makes for upsetting reading given the casualty rate.

One thing they seldom touch on - except for the book Thin Blue Line - is behaviour of the RAF crews. Maybe the story will never be told but I wonder how many dropped short on purpose. They flew in the dark so no one could see them unload a few 'eggs' on the way so as to lighten the over-burdened plane. Maybe they dropped them as soon as they saw the target burning ahead. A bit like a delivery service... some are good but others will do as little as possible. Obviously this is life and death and who can blame them.

The planners tried to get around creep back by putting the aim point across from the real target.

Other things to ponder. How many bombs hit 'hidden' targets because of the creep back etc? They dispersed manufacturing out of the cities so the RAF could have hit some good targets by accident.
The RAF fitted cameras to all of its bombers in 1941 if memory serves correctly. They were highly unpopular at first b soon became a standard part of the business.

Early in the war many pilots couldnt even find the right targets, so it was fairly common practice in the first 12 months of the war to omb the wrong city. The main culprits were inaccurate navigation and huge differences in prevailing winds from those forcast. It wans't unusual for German formations headed for London to be 20-30 km of target after crossing the Channel. Some British formations found themselves often 100 kilometers or more from their targets when they got a proper bearing.

The 1941 Butt report found that:

1. On any given night, around one third of all aircraft returned having not bombed the primary target.
2. Of the rest of the attacking forces, Only one third of managed to bomb within 5 miles of the aiming point. When bombing in the heavily defended Ruhr Valley, only 10% managed even this.
3. Moonlight appeared to be indespensible - on moonlit nights two crews in five managed fives miles or closer. On moonless nights this fell as low as one in fifteen.

By 1942 there was a serious effort to correct the aim of the bombers. HS2 ground radar, OBOE bombing radar, "Gee" radio navigation, pathfinding and other aids were all developed. In the final 12 months of the war, Bomber Command at night had a very similar rate of accuracy against precision targets to the USAAF bombing during the day, but from higher altitude.
Interesting stuff but this isn't quite what I meant.

Navigational problems of night bombing slowly became sorted out as you say. These topics are well covered in many books etc.

What I allude to is the behaviour of the crews.

Personally if I was in the mood I would consider personal survival over all else. If this meant dropping short or lightening the load then so be it.

How many crews did this kind of thing?

I recall too that they put flash bombs in the load too with the automatic camera. The official line was to gauge accuracy. I think it had a more sinister aspect too - they were checking up on the crews. You could not drop a few bombs over the sea for example once that system was installed. Of course you could always snip the wires....
After all we know about routeing the stream away from neutral countries after a few crews declared fake emergencies (so they say) and were impounded for the duration.

A thin line between cowardice and survival. Let some other gung ho charlie cop the flak etc.....
I've read various accounts of the bombs being dropped over the North Sea as a method to extend ones life I wouldn't think of it as common occurence nut it probably occured more then we would like to think
Nothing I have read suggests that there was any widespread short dropping by BC crews. There may of been incorrect drops over Germany/France/Italy, but drops into the North Sea are almost out of the question.

After-all, a crew is a crew. Its a pretty hard thing to short drop unless the pilot, bomb aimer, navigator ect all agree to do it.

I'm sure it happened, but not often for reasons of cowardice. The bomb was king, and it was these guys jobs to ensure that they delivered it to the target (or what they thought was the target.

Besides, it was probably easier to fake a mechanical error than to short drop once in the air. Radio, nav equipment, bomb site, engines ect could all mysteriously 'fail' and cause an abort.

Most of the Bomber Command pilots were well trained and pretty determined. BC had a surplus of pilots pre-war, in fact it was the ONLY service branch with excess pilots in 1939. Up until 1941 it was operating on the 'flying club' pilots, before newly trained crews began to appear in strenght. Early on gunners and radiomen were quite often ground crew who were just along for the extra pay that it offered.
If you get the opportunity try reading Bombs,Boys,and Brussels Sprouts by Douglas Harvey who dropped 68000 lbs over Berlin. In one anecdote the pilot was briefed for 18000ft for Berlin because of icing but with his load couldn't get over 17000 ft he was instructed before take off if unable to get to 18k ft to lighten his load by dropping his incendiaries due to a malfunction everything went including his 4000lb cookie over the dutch coast he did continue the mission but at fl240 I'm quite sure this type of situation occured with other circumstances to others. Its a really entertaining read about bomber command
I recall too that they put flash bombs in the load too with the automatic camera. The official line was to gauge accuracy. I think it had a more sinister aspect too - they were checking up on the crews. You could not drop a few bombs over the sea for example once that system was installed. Of course you could always snip the wires....

the camera's were fitted for that reason, so they could figure out where you dropped your load! in bomber command even if you dropped your load right over the centre of berlin, unless you had a picture to prove it to the station's intelligence officer, you might as well have not taken off, because the flight would not be counted, it was void if you didn't have that photo! they didn't count towards a tour either, great insentive for the crews to carry on :lol:

but remember most crews were volunteers, most joined bomber command because in the early years it was tyhe only way to strike back at an enemy that had bombed their homes and killed their families, most wanted more than anything to make germany "reap the wirlwind" and so would want to carry on their mission even if they lost an engine early on, there are stories of crews turning back for something very trivial but remarkably for such a damanding task there are very few stories of cowadice, for which all bomber command crews should be commended....................
I know what you are on about Roy, trouble is even after 60 years getting guys to admit they dropped short of target on purpose to leg it could be a bit awkward.
But I have spoken too my Mum and Brentwood, in Essex where she lived(and still does) seemed to get a lot of stuff dropped on it from returning LW bombers there is a church in the town center with a tall spire and she said that you could see the aircraft make a turn towards London when they passed over it and when returning quite a few would drop there load on the town. Perhaps because Ilford Se-lo (film production factory for use in aerial recon cameras etc) was located there it was a secondary aiming point should the main target be unavailable. I don't know. But going by my Uncle's flight record it appears that if a target was not reached the plane (on a few occasions appears to have returned with its load rather than just dump them. So dropping short (unless miss aimed) seems from the little bit of info I have, was not very common practice as either secondary targets or target unavailable instructions (in his case) where issued. I dare say there may have been instances of purpose short dropping but in an aircraft with a crew of several people I would of thought the chance of all of them keeping schtum would be a bit dodgy.
I was always under the impression that it was not advisable to return with your load as the extra weight when landing was hard on the a/c hurt braking etc as for the photo flashes I believe that on a normal mission pilots were used to seeing 10-20 photo flashes over the north sea on any given mission but these were probably a/c with snags that were returning to base.
You may well be right PB but as I say I can only go by his Flight log and it says that he returned with his load having said that they where 500lb mines so perhaps that made a difference, but the load on the airframe would have been the same what ever the payload was.
Perhaps MKII Wellington airframes could handle it better.
an interesting note on this topic is one of the reasons for the loss of Glenn Millers a/c was the fact Halifaxes whose op had been cancelled or target closed in jettisoned their loads over the area where miller was flying and one of the theories being the jettisoned bombs destroyed the Miller a/c
i saw a tv doc about that some time ago - based on an article in Aeroplane mag I think. Fascinating but tragic. Let alone the waste. I was thinking too that few of the crews would want to try to land with their bombloads. Stories abound of planes touching down dislodging one hung up and disappearing in a fireball.
Personally, I think the whole experience was terrifying. Who would want to go for a flight in what was essentially a flying bomb and then let people shoot at you while your mates fly near you... maybe even drop bombs on you?!
people who had suffered years of bombing and wanted revenge from the people who had taken away their homes and families, plus chicks dig pilots..........
his soul lived in annother body, which was tragically killed by a rather savage sheep, it was during his state of death he learnt about all the necrophilia ;)

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