Bomber Command

Bomber Command is an organizational military unit, generally subordinate to the air force of a country. Many countries have a "Bomber Command", although the most famous ones were in the United States and Britain. A bomber command is generally composed of bombers (i.e. planes used to bomb targets).


RAF Bomber Command

RAF Bomber Command was formed in 1936 to be responsible for all bombing activities of the RAF. It was most famous during World War II, when its aircraft were used for devastating nighttime air raids on Germany and occupied Europe. Many non-British squadrons and personnel served with Bomber Command. Under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, many Commonwealth countries contributed squadrons and/or individuals to British air and ground staff. For example, No. 6 Group, which represented about one-sixth of Bomber Command's strength, was a Royal Canadian Air Force unit.

At its height, Bomber Command under Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris (Bomber Harris) could put over 1,000 aircraft into the air over Germany. Over 12,000 Bomber Command aircraft were shot down during World War II, and 55,000 aircrew were killed. Various aircraft were used, from the obsolete and horrendously vulnerable Fairey Battle in 1939 to the command's most numerous and successful aircraft, the Avro Lancaster. Bomber Command not only used British aircraft but also American-built machines such as the B-17 Flying Fortress.

RAF Bomber Command was merged into RAF Strike Command in 1968.


Whereas the Bomber Command in the RAF was a single organisation, reporting directly to the Chief of the Air Staff, there were many American Bomber Commands. They were subordinate formations, reporting in general to various numbered Air Forces around the world. Out of those organisations, four were tasked with strategic bombing of Germany and Japan. VIII Bomber Command, XV Bomber Command, XX Bomber Command and XXI Bomber Command.

VIII Bomber Command

VIII Bomber Command was the UK-based strategic bomber arm of the Eighth Air Force and contributed a substantial part of Operation Pointblank. Two aircraft made up the backbone of this unit, the B-17 Flying Fortress, and the B-24 Liberator. The former was more famous, but the latter had a greater range and a larger bomb load. The USAAF came to Europe wanting to bomb by day with 'precision'. True precision bombing in the modern sense was impossible in the 1940s. However, daylight bombing was more accurate than night bombing. The big problem was that bombers in daylight were considerably easier to shoot down. The RAF had tried day bombing early in the war, but had abandoned it in the face of huge losses. However, the USAAF persevered. It was not until long range escort fighters like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang came into service that daylight bombing really worked. The original American doctrine of heavily armed bombers defending themselves over enemy territory was found to be fundamentally flawed.

XV Bomber Command

IX Bomber Command was part of the Ninth Air Force and had started life as the heavy bomber unit contingent of the U.S. Army Forces in the Middle East (USAFIME) fighting in the Egypt-Libya Campaign during 1942. When in 1943, the Ninth Air Force moved from the Mediterranean Theater of Operations to the United Kingdom to become a tactical air force in the European Theater of Operations, they left behind the heavy bombers of IX Bomber Command which joined the newly created Fifteenth Air Force as the XV Bomber Command.

Initially the bombers flew from bases in the Middle East and North Africa, but after the invasion of Italy they relocated the bulk of the bombers to bases in Southern Italy. From there they were able to launch raids all over Axis occupied Europe and Germany as far afield as Poland.

XX Bomber Command

Main article XX Bomber Command

XX Bomber Command was part of the Twentieth Air Force and flew missions from China against mainland Japan in Operation Matterhorn.

The forward airbases in China were supplied out of India by the flying supplies over the Hump from India.

The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29, which had an operational range of 1500 miles (2,400 km); almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber (147,000 tons). The first raid by B-29s on Japan from China was on June 15, 1944. The planes took off from Chengdu, over 1500 miles away. This first raid was also not particularly damaging to Japan. Only forty-seven of the sixty-eight B29s airborne hit the target area in Tokyo; four aborted with mechanical problems, four crashed, six jettisoned their bombs because of mechanical difficulties, and others bombed secondary targets or targets of opportunity. Only one B29 was lost to enemy aircraft.

Bombing from China was never a satisfactory arrangement because not only were the Chinese forward airbases difficult to supply via the Hump, but the B-29s operating from them could only reach Japan if they substituted some of the bomb load for extra fuel tanks in the bomb-bays. When Admiral Chester Nimitz's island-hopping campaign captured islands close enough to Japan to be within the range of B-29s, XXI Bomber Command commanded Twentieth Air Force units flying from the islands in a much more effective bombing campaign of the Japanese home islands.

XXI Bomber Command

In the Pacific, XXI Bomber Command was also part of the Twentieth Air Force. It was the main instrument of destruction used against Japan. Its B-29 Superfortresses, operating from the Marianas, were the longest range and most modern bomber in service in the world at the time, although not developed until almost the end of the war. Again, as in Europe, the USAAF tried daylight precision bombing. However, it proved to be impossible due to the weather around Japan, as bombs dropped from great height were tossed about by high winds. General Curtis LeMay, commander of XXI Bomber Command instead switched to mass firebombing attacks by night from low level. Japanese cities were uniquely vulnerable to this sort of attack, being closely packed and largely built of wood.

The Pacific attacks included the most devastating single air raid in history. It was not, as some might think, the result of dropping one of the two atomic bombs. It was a conventional raid on Tokyo on the night of 910 March 1945, which created a firestorm and killed 100,000 people. However, the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which helped to end the war were devastating enough, killing tens of thousands of people.

External links

  • WW2 propaganda leaflets ( Germans airdropped special propaganda on some Eighth Air Force units in Britain portraying the losses of the Schweinfurt raids.

Template:RAF WWII Strategic Bombing

pl:Bomber Command


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