Military aircraft of the 1930s could easily
cross the short distance between Nazi Germany
and the British Isles. The Luftwaffe’s
rearmament decided by Hitler was, therefore,
a source of major concern for the British.
It was to counter that threat, that in July
1935 the British Government established
Bomber Command, a Royal Air Force (RAF)
command whose mission it was to set up an
important force ready for strategic
Wellington medium bombers flying
in formation, circa 1940.
Archives of Canada, PA-128144.
Between the two world wars,
advances in aeronautics were such that
a theory was born, claiming that, with
aircraft flying increasingly faster and
higher, no country could survive systematic
high-explosive and incendiary bomb strikes.
Pre-emptive, offensive bombing, that would
crush the enemy before it can engage in
such action, was therefore deemed to be
the only way to escape utter destruction.
The doctrine of strategic bombing resulted
from that theory.Strategic
Operations Room of RCAF No 405
Squadron, in 1941.
Defence Image Library, RE 74-385.
“J” of No 432 Squadron
crashed at take-off at East Moor,
Yorkshire, April 16th, 1945. The
pilot, F/L W.H. Porritt, was killed
but the other crewmembers were
able to escape the flaming wreck.
Pelland Album. By kind permission
of the Pelland family.
Starting in July 1940, such raids became
a reality, as German bombers attacked Britain.
It is only after the end of the Battle of
Britain that the Allies would, in their
turn, assume the offensive and launch bombing
raids against Germany.
Early bombing raids were flown by day.
They proved to be almost suicidal, as the
bombers were no match for the faster and
more manoeuvrable German fighters. Just
as the Luftwaffe’s Dorniers 17, Junkers
88 and Heinkel 111 bombers did not stand
a chance against the Spitfires, in the same
way Bomber Command’s Wellingtons and
Hampdens could not escape the Messerschmitts
109 that guarded the Third Reich’s
air space. The RAF soon switched to night
bombing as the only way to avoid enemy fighters.
Allied bombers had to cross Germany’s
daunting anti-aircraft defence lines in
order to reach their targets, as well as
on their way back home. To optimize the
destructive effects of bombing and reduce
casualties, heavier, longer-ranged, four-engine
Halifax and Lancaster bombers gradually
replaced the earlier twin-engine bombers.
Those air raids deep inside German territory
were conducted with large numbers of aircraft,
at times more than a thousand bombers flying
at high altitude and moving on in successive
waves under the cover of the night.
Germany fought bitterly
to defend its territory, using fighters,
anti-aircraft artillery and a whole range
of detection and scrambling devices. Both
sides conducted intensive research work
to improve radars and counter-measures
against enemy technologies; all this made
the bomber war a form of sophisticated
The success of a bombing
mission rests on three factors: the capacity
to enter enemy territory while withstanding
fire from anti-aircraft defences, the
accuracy of navigation and target identification,
and the quantity and efficiency of the
bombs dropped on the target. Aircraft,
Bombs and Radars
Part of the
Skipton-on-Swale Air Base facilities,
in Yorkshire, where No 424 and
No 433 Squadrons were stationed.
The Nissen huts with their curved,
corrugated iron roofs were used
as lodging quarters, August
Defence Image Library, PL 45597.
With each mission, some aircraft were reported
missing. Every night, bombers were hit by
Flak or shot down by German fighters. Some
would crash at take-off or collide with
a friendly plane. Landing on cluttered airstrips
in bad weather conditions was also a risky
business. Every night, flying crews learned
that some of their pals had gone missing:
dead, wounded or prisoners in Germany.
After each mission, Bomber Command estimated
the loss ratio, the percentage of lost aircraft
in relation to the total number of aircraft
involved. A squadron that suffered losses
of 5% and over on several occasions was
assigned to less dangerous missions such
as mine-laying in the Bay of Biscay or the
North Sea, to give its crews a chance to
rest and train.
ESSEN was attacked a second
time in the course of the month on the
night of March 12th. All eleven R.C.A.F.
squadrons participated in this raid, contributing
a total of 113 aircraft, of which 89 attacked
the target and three were reported missing.
Command, Secret Narrative, March 1943
Airmen from Commonwealth countries –
Canada, Australia, New Zealand – as
well as free forces of occupied nations
flew on Bomber Command missions, or worked
with ground crews. Many, including a significant
number of Canadians, were incorporated into
RAF squadrons. The Allied dominions, such
as Canada, also had their own squadrons
within Bomber Command’s structure.
Royal Canadian Air Force
The Canadian government shared the British
view with regard to strategic bombing. As
a result, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)
assigned more squadrons to Bomber Command
than it did to Fighter Command or to Coastal
Command. In all, 15 Canadian squadrons were
formed within Bomber Command in Great Britain,
with British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
(BCATP) graduates; the first one was No
405 Squadron in April 1941.
This significant number of squadrons helped
Canada ensure the autonomy of its national
air force. Indeed, on January 1st, 1943,
the RCAF squadrons were brought together
as 6 Group, under the command of Air Rear-Marshal
G.E. Brookes, with its HQ at Allerton Hall,
a Yorkshire mansion. In 1945, the group
controlled 11 air bases in Yorkshire : Croft,
Dalton, Dishforth, East Moor, Leeming, Linton-on-Ouse,
Middleton St. George, Skipton-on-Swale,
Tholthorpe, Topcliffe and Wombleton.
Attended two briefings
yesterday to make it probably the most
interesting day up here. The first covered
the 1000-plane raid on Caen, opening the
way for the new offensive. After their
operational supper at midnight, the crews
slipped off quietly, in two’s and
three’s, to the interrogation hut
for their briefing. There are no good
wishes or parting jokes passed around
F.H.C. Reinke’s Diary, July 19th,
The ground crew
doing maintenance work on a
Halifax II of No 408 Squadron
at Leeming, August 10th, 1943.
Defence Image Library, PL 19510.
The creation of 6 Group gave Canadian senior
air force officers the opportunity to gain
the experience, and operational and administrative
expertise that was required to command larger
and more complex units above the squadron
or wing level.
From its inception, 6 Group took part in
Bomber Command operations against U-boat
bases in Lorient and Saint-Nazaire in France,
and later against urban and industrial centres
in Germany targeted for night bombings.
During its first few months, 6 Group displayed
some evidence of its lack of experience,
with a higher loss ratio than other groups,
reaching 7.8% in June 1944, for instance.
Maintenance problems and the number of crews
reported as LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre) were
lightly higher than the average for other
During its first 12 months, 6 Group grew
from 8 to 13 squadrons; flew 7,355 missions
and dropped 13,630 tons of bombs. The additional
training demanded by the Canadian commanders
and the experience gained through perilous
missions over Germany allowed 6 Group to
substantially improve its performance and
reduce its loss ratio to a level equivalent
to that of other Bomber Command groups.
The efficiency of ground crews and the quality
of their maintenance work were considered
Among the Canadian squadrons, No 405 distinguished
itself by the accuracy of its bomb aiming
and was designated for target-indicator
operations; in April 1943; while remaining
affiliated to 6 Group, it was transferred
to 8 Group (Pathfinder).
In addition, 331 Wing, that included No
402, 424 and 425 Squadrons, was assigned
to another theatre for a short while: in
May 1943, it was detached from 6 Group to
take part in Operation Husky, the Allies’
invasion of Sicily. Men received shots for
tropical diseases and their aircraft, Wellingtons
Mark X, were especially prepared to deal
with dust, sand and heat. Assigned to the
Mediterranean theatre’s Air Command,
the three squadrons were based near Kairouan
in Tunisia. 331 Wing was to stay only three
months in the Mediterranean but Operation
Husky was a success and the Allies decided
to press on and march on Naples through
Southern Italy. As a result, the three RCAF
squadrons remained until October 1943. They
were then reintegrated into 6 Group.
last bombing raid against the
coastal batteries in Wangerooge,
on the Friesian Islands, on
April 25th, 1945. Five Canadian
crews were lost following a
Defence Image Library, PL 144281.
No 425 Squadron, one of the three that
took part in the Campaign of Italy, had
the noteworthy characteristic of being made
up mostly of French-Canadians. By establishing
this squadron, the Canadian Government wanted
to lift the language barrier that kept many
Quebeckers and Francophones from other parts
of Canada from enlisting in the RCAF where
English was the sole operational language.
No 425 was formed at Dishforth in June 1942
under the command of W/C J.M.W. St-Pierre;
it started flying in August and became operational
in October of the same year.
When war ended in Europe on May 8th, 1945,
6 Group took part with other Bomber Command
squadrons in Operation Exodus, the repatriation
of war prisoners to England. Then 6 Group
was dismantled : eight squadrons (No 405,
408, 419, 420, 425, 428, 431 and 434) were
chosen for Tiger Force, the final assault
against Japan. Starting May 31st, 1945,
they flew back home with their Canadian-made
Lancasters X. But the war in the Pacific
came to an end before the Canadian squadrons
had a chance to get involved. The squadrons
that remained in Great Britain were disbanded
in the twelve months following V-E Day.
During its short life, 6 Group flew 40,822
missions in all; 814 crews never made it
back, a 1.9% ratio. Some one hundred others
crashed on British soil. A total of 9,919
RCAF airmen died while serving with Bomber
Command, whether in 6 Group or in some other
unit. This figure represents three-quarters
of the RCAF’s 13,498 WWII casualties.