What was Bomber Command?

Black and white aerial image of sick quarters at RAF Defford

The 1930s were an age when aerial apocalypse was feared, and it was believed that a strong bomber force would deter enemy aggression. It was against this backdrop that Bomber Command was formed in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Between 1936 and 1968, it provided specialised control of the UK’s bomber force. While this organisation existed for 32 years, the role of Bomber Command in the Second World War (1939-45) is best known.

The bombing war

On the 3rd September 1939, Britain entered the Second World War. Less than an hour after the declaration, a Blenheim bomber took off to make a reconnaissance of German naval ports. Bomber Command therefore made the RAF’s first operational sortie of the war over enemy territory.

The RAF initially believed that the conflict would be a ‘bombing war’, which would be decided by air strikes. While the emphasis changed in light of experience, Bomber Command was ultimately charged with ‘taking the fight to the enemy.’ This was important in raising the morale of the British people, as well as inflicting material damage at a time prior to the D-Day invasion when Britain had no other method of directly attacking and weakening Nazi Germany.

From 1942, Bomber Command caused significant disruption to the German war economy by attacking industrial, communications, and fuel targets in occupied Europe and Germany.

Men and machines

Bomber Command raised 128 operational squadrons during the war. These were largely manned by young, civilian volunteers from Britain and the Commonwealth. Aircrew were expected to fly a tour of 30 operations before having a rest. This figure may appear negligible but operational flying was perilous, exhausting, and psychologically-draining.

Bomber Command flew a variety of light, medium, and heavy bombers of which around 12,000 were destroyed. Perhaps the most famous is the Avro Lancaster, which came into service in April 1942. This aircraft was fully equipped for night flying and usually flew with a crew of 7 men. No. 617 Squadron flew specially-adapted Lancasters on the legendary ‘Dambusters Raid’ in 1943.

The cost

The actions of Bomber Command undoubtedly shortened the war but remain controversial due to the loss of human life. Approximately 55,573 were killed by VE Day and a further 18,000 wounded or taken prisoner. With a casualty rate of 60 per cent, there was no more dangerous occupation in the British armed forces.

Bomber Command at our places

RAF staff making maps in the drawing room

Hughenden 

Hughenden Manor was an RAF intelligence base, codenamed ‘Hillside.’ Personnel carried out vital map-making for bomber raids, including the sinking of the Tirpitz, the bombing of Hitler’s bunker, and the legendary Dambusters raid.

RAF Officers standing outside Blickling Hall

The RAF Oulton Museum 

Royal Air Force Oulton was a heavy bomber airfield that was created on the Blickling Estate in 1939. Ten Bomber Command squadrons were based there between 1940 and 1945. It was closed for operations in 1946, and finally decommissioned in 1949, however remains of the airfield can still be seen in Oulton Street, just over a mile from Blickling Hall itself.

Poster displays in RAF museum

RAF Defford 

In 1941, Defford was initially a satellite airfield for bombers based at nearby RAF Pershore. In 1942, the Telecommunications Research Establishment was formed at Defford and the experiments carried out there on airborne radar played a vital part in Allied victory. Today, the base is Croome's visitor centre and museum, where you can discover the once secret story of RAF Defford with wartime artefacts, emotive personal possessions, videos and costume displays.