Showing posts from April, 2022

Eighty years ago 'Bert' Harris turns Huns into Vandals

    Hitler was enraged at the success of RAF Bomber Command under the new forceful leadership of 'Bert' Harris as demonstrated in the  raids on the mediaeval Hansa ports of L ├╝beck and Rostock, which had been devastatingly destructive albeit of little military benefit. He ordered a resumption of air raids on Britain that had been almost discontinued as the Russian campaign absorbed German air strength. The British cities targeted were of historical and cultural, but trivial industrial or military, value. The campaign was known as the Baedecker raids from the tourist guide of the day, but propaganda minister Goebbels was annoyed at the indiscretion which revealed the nature of the plan and insisted they be known as 'reprisal raids': hardly an elevating mission. Exeter, the historic county town of Devon was the first target. Perhaps unconsciously, Harris had realised the RAF's mission as enunciated by its founding spirit Lord Trenchard of a tit-for-tat bombing campaig

Eighty years ago touching the limits of strategic air power

  RAF Bomber Command sent a force of twelve of its new Avro Lancaster bombers to attack the MAN factory at Augsburg deep in southern Germany, which supplied most U Boot engines. Air Marshal Harris saw this as a major contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic, which would ensure that his aircraft were not "diverted" to direct use in the sea war. This was the first significant operation by Lancasters which married the airframe of the Manchester which had been a failure because of the unreliability of its Vulture engines with four of the proven Merlin engines; in time it was to become the RAF's best heavy bomber, but the Augsburg raid was beyond the capacities of any contemporary heavy bomber. The key to the plan was to bomb accurately in daylight, which involved flying 500 miles across German held territory during the day. It was hoped that a dog-leg course over France, flying beneath radar height and the Lancaster's eight machine guns in four powered turrets would pro

Eighty years ago the Germans regain a potential ally but have to weather an embarassment.

  In one of the most tortuous and obscure episodes of the Vichy regime, Pierre Laval returned as prime minister, replacing Admiral Darlan. Darlan was generally counted to have been a failure and had enjoyed a pompous and luxurious lifestyle, which Petain found offensive. Petain had hoped to replace Darlan's government with traditionalists and technocrats, but his choices inspired no enthusiasm either amongst the Germans or the Americans, still tenuously at peace with Vichy. Laval displaced Petain in all the main functions of head of government leaving the Marshal as titular head of state. Darlan retained his position head of the armed forces.  The Germans might have gained a government more inclined to whole-hearted collaboration, but their refusal to make anything but token concessions to Vichy meant they could make little of this. Vichy was something of an embarassment to the Germans; its attempt to stage a show-trial of the generals and ministers of the Third Republic at Riom ha

Eighty years ago the Japanese assault on British Empire reaches across the Indian Ocean

  The Japanese attack on the British Empire reached across the Indian Ocean in the form of task force based around three aircraft carriers sent to mount  a strike on the Royal Navy base on Sri Lanka. The British had advance warning and were able to sail their major units - three aircraft carriers and five battleships - out of harbour before the Japanese aircraft struck on the morning of Easter Sunday so the damage achieved by the first phase of the operation was limited. Heavy casulaties were, though, inflicted on the defending aircraft. The Japanese located and their aircraft sank two British heavy cruisers, Cornwall and Dorsetshire , in a small scale version of the sinking of Force Z. The Japanese did not intend to invade Sri Lanka but their success provoked a major panic.  The British set out to outdo the spectactular acheivements against St Nazaire of Operation Chariot with another major commando operation further south in the Gironde estuary. The original plan for Operation Myrmi

Eighty years ago Mahatma Gandhi composes an epitath for the British Raj

  Sir Stafford Cripps's mission to India got off to an unpromising start. Ostensibly he hoped to obtain more active participation of India in the war effort by its political leaders, but how much extra he could have got is unclear. Millions of individual Indians were volunteering to serve in the various units of the India Army fighting the Axis powers, mostly under British officers. In reality his goal was more likely to have been to establish his credentials as a progressive politician by securing autonomy for the first non-white territory in the Empire. He was willing to promise privately that the conservative Viceroy Lord Linlithgow would be replaced and publicly that India would receive Dominion status (like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa) after the war. The most important Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, derided the latter offer as a " post dated cheque drawn on a failing bank." RAF Bomber Command staged its first major raid since the directive giving