Letter: Neither glory nor guilt for the heroes of BomberCommand

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The Independent Online
GEOFFREY Wheatcroft rightly says that it is impossible todefend 'Bomber' Harris's deliberate bombing of German civilians by saying that the Germans started it and they got what they asked for.

As well, it is by no means crystal clear that the Germans did start it. The Luftwaffe's job was to destroy the RAF and,apart from the bombing of the aircraft industry's scattered factories, this brief did not include the bombing of civilian areas.

Then, on the night of 24-25 August 1940, German bombers made a crucial mistake. Their target was the oil storage depot at Thames Haven. Their bombs fell instead on the City and parts of the East End. The German crews were punished for this error by being posted to infantry regiments, so it is reasonable to conclude that the raid was not intended as the first stage of a campaign against civilians.

But Churchill's immediate reaction was to order the RAF to carry out the same day a reprisal raid on Berlin. The Times of 28 August described this raid as an attack on 'clearly defined military objectives', which were located and bombed.

But this report does not tally with the official account written by Squadron-Leader Russell J Oxley, who led the raids. Unable to identify his target, Oxley made a crucial decision: 'I could have brought my bombs back, of course, but I didn't, I left them in Berlin.'

After that it was hard to cry halt and each side bombed civilian targets to little strategic end.

Phillip Knightley

London W2