Thursday, December 27, 2012

From Now On, No More Defeats: The Siege, 2: Towards the Atlantic Climax


Die Matrosenlied: "Wir fahren gegen Engeland!" So kiss a girl one last time, because the grey seas and iron guns of England wait for Frisian and Saxon sailor boys, too young to know that the task to which the Grand Admiral calls them is beyond their strength.

And deeply evil, of course. God, there are a lot of Nazis on Youtube. But those Wagner-worshipping assholes certainly brought their special touch to the "siege of England." They didn't win the war, because Gotterdammerung is not about winning, but they did manage to blight the United Kingdom's recovery from the stresses of war and muddy the Keynesian waters. 

At least, that's the preliminary takeaway. In both New World and Old, war brought massive spending and a huge uncompensated skills transfer, with consequences that were very different from one hemisphere to the next, and in fact between the United States and Canada. The surge in the birth rate that would come to be called the Baby Boom is detectable in the United States in 1944, suggesting (to me, but what do I know?) that it was triggered by the earliest phases of rearmament. In Canada it becomes detectable in 1945, when the men of the corvette navy returned. In the United Kingdom, the moment was right for austerity and a return to rationing. 
Alan Allport, concluding his somber look at demobilisation in the UK, calls out the lack of a British GI Bill. I'm a little torn about this conclusion, which seems to me to take a far too utilitarian view of postsecondary education. Of skills transfer the United Kingdom was not short in 1946. For a bit of university finish to add to that, the finish has to be something more than additional skills transfer.  We have an account of what that might be (Pierre Bourdieu shout-out!), but to follow down that road, we need to have a clearer understanding about how the North American university system reproduces social class. Does it work, or does it just seem to work when the population is growing enough to make more room at the top?

Put it another way: was the siege enough to stop a British baby boom? That's the framing question, to me, because I think that it's the boom that's going to turn out to be important. Now it's time to put the historian of technology hat on, and recycle some material that I never got around to pushing into the submission process. I've cleaned up the thing a little bit, and, as usual, lost most of the time I meant to save by using it, and that's why the footnotes are out of order and in some cases messed up. Which is too bad, because the whole thing is mainly worth saving for the footnotes. Skip the words and scroll down to the bottom if you're interested in that sort of stuff, by all means.

So the Battle of the Atlantic has a rich historiography on both sides of the Atlantic, much of it about the RAF. And, incredibly, it is wrong. I have already pointed out why. From the fall of 1941, Consolidated B-24 Liberator Is of 120 Squadron RAF supplied land based air anti-submarine warfare (ASW) support to convoy escorts at unprecedented distances from land (usually denoted as “Very Long Range” [VLR]). The literature thinks that the RAF considered that to be a bad thing to do and kept all the rest of the B-24s for strategic bombing until the Combined Chiefs of Staff made the bomber barons hand them over in the spring of 1943. 
Drilling down, you have the option of being appalled that the only VLR aircraft were the small batch of Liberator Is originally ordered by the French in 1938 and delivered by fall, 1941. The Air Staff denied the ASW battle no VLR aircraft, because there were no VLR aircraft, until the first Mark V Liberators appeared over the Atlantic after the crisis is over. Which still means that you're repudiating the historiographic consensus, insofar as you're no longer blaming the Air Staff, but you can still loose your shit at it over an industrial strategic failure of prioritisation in research and procurement, not allocation of existing resources, and we will call this the strategic critique. That'd be your Corelli Barnett approach. It might not be clear how exactly you get to "VLR," because that would require actually knowing stuff, but, then, if what you know is that vast larger-scale industrial and technological faults in British society have left it unable to tie its own shoes, you can be sure that you'll get to this argument in the end once you actually know all the wing-aspect-high-ocatane--hardened-spur-drive-antenna-loading crap. So, yeah, that's bullshit.[1]
To many, air strategy means a 1927 draft statement prepared by the Chief of the Air Staff, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Trenchard. Its unexceptionable premise was that bombing would be the RAF’s primary means of making war. Cue a century of argument.[2] 

Look: the RAF’s typically British committee structure crews and matériel were supplied by two (later three) members of the Air Council, the Member for Personnel, and the Member for Supply and Research. Each Member was working through a bureaucracy and across services to supply radios, armament, spark plugs, and carburetors through the Aeronautical Research Committee, the Directorate of Civil Aviation, the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, the radar guys at the Telecommunications Research Establishment, the Meteorological Office, the navy's fuel guys, the army's engine guys, the Post Office computerator-thingie guys, the Cabinet Office, with its own hands in the mix. 

This list is here because lists are cool, but because I need to make it clear that the industrial strategic trajectory of the RAF was not set by one guy writing a paper. Strategy isn't just a line of attack. It's the means. There is a massive community at work, and it clearly delivered VLR in 1943. (either the Lancaster or late model Halifaxes would have made perfectly good VLR patrol aircraft if there weren't plenty of Mark Vs instead.) The sum of the anti-Air Staff argument is that it ought to have converged in 1941 instead, and somehow Trenchard's thing for bombers prevented it. Seriously. How? "Let's go slow on high test gasoline, Jim. We like bombers." "But won't high test gasoline help bombers, too?" "Shut up, Jim."[3] [4]

Can we reduce the critique to the lack of a Liberator? Well, people have done it, but it's wrong, and the bulk of this article lays out all of the planes that could have been used, so I hope you like the whole "forgotten byways of technological history" thing --and I don't even go into the real weirdos of the transatlantic race.

Anyway, the argument, just to parody it in a completely unfair way given that John Buckley is invovled, and he's been winning more respect from me with every monograph  he pucblishes, is that the  RAF had an abstruse preference for flying boats in the maritime cooperation role (because they're boats, and Englishmen like boats!). And, oops, flying boats suck! It's a terrible argument, but an argument. 

It's wrong. Have I said that already? Here's the potted history. Not including 120 Squadron and Liberators modified for transport duties in BOAC, the RAF’s complement of Liberator IIs and IIIs in October, 1942–April, 1943, consisted of a squadron each of Liberator IIs in a Mediterranean SOE Flight in the Middle East, and a bomber squadron in the same theatre. The USAAF’s Liberator force consisted of  up to seven squadrons in the Mediterranean, and a single group in the United Kingdom operational from October 1942, but constrained by severe logistical shortfalls. Bomber Command never operated Liberators, and had it done so, it would probably have had to turn them over to 8th Air Force in the fall of 1942.[6]

Now, for sure, the Air Staff had already fought with the Navy over bombers for ASW in 1940. Although Britain entered the war in the grip of an exaggerated view of the likely size and effectiveness of the German submarine force that had grown up in the first half of 1939, I think in retrospect that will turn out to have been a moral panic amongst shipowners, a group to whose opinion the Conservative government was unusually sensitive. Overall German ineffectuality put these fears to because their main war boat, the Type VII, proved ineffective for a long range commerce war. A neat little craft with a small displacement, it had a fast dive capability for protection against air and escort attack that made it ideal for intense convoy battles, but it was based on a WWI strategic concept in which boats could reach the  target-rich Western Approaches by penetrating British ASW defences in the strait of Dover. Deployed northabout the British Isles, Type VIIs had limited endurance on station. The battle of  France  made it possible for Type VIIs to inflict dangerous casualties in the Approaches by operating from  the Biscay ports, triggering the allocation of additional ASW aircraft to thicken air patrolling in the Atlantic shelf waters where German submarine attacks had been anticipated before the war. More importantly, however, Beaverbrook had pushed production of obsolescent Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys. The Whitleys had the range to patrol the Western Approaches, and, in the late models, a modern Merlin engine with a spur auxiliary drive to run various gadgets such as might help. If the Navy wanted them running around with radios, radars, searchlights and who knew what else, frankly, it could have them. More or less the same thinking probably guided the allocation of Liberator Is. Planes without self-sealing tanks or defensive turrets or  high altitude supercharging, and reaching full range only by the use of fuselage ferry tanks, had no place near the real war. Heck, an order of Consolidated PBYs was more useful.

 At the end of 1941, the United States entered the war, and the Germans launched a submarine offensive in Western Hemisphere continental waters, where it proved barely possible to operate Type VIIs thanks to  incremental improvements in German boats and crews and the exiguous trade defences in American waters. For the RN and Coastal Command, this was a frustrating period. A heavy British investment in ASW capability was rendered nugatory while British tonnage was lost in large quantities in American waters. The only obvious means of affecting this battle was to attack the enemy in the “chokepoint” of the Bay of Biscay, where submarines on their way to American waters and back could be harassed and even sunk.  Once again, operations did not demand VLR, but a year of research into ASW technology had produced a heavy weapon suite for the aircraft involved, including a combination of 1.25 metre surface search radar and searchlights that, beginning in June 1942, seriously impacted German operations. Even the shorter-ranged Liberator variants had tremendous disposable lift and the internal volume required for this weapon suite and continued to deploy it with a harassing rather than lethal effect after the Germans introduced a submarine-borne meter range radar detector in August, 1942.

By the summer of 1942, the Type VII’s short range had been supplemented by replenishment submarines. Given refuelling and rearming in mid-ocean, Germany’s now gigantic Type VII fleet could take its fight into the central Atlantic --so long as Allied radio reconnaissance could not break up refuelling groups. 

Moreover, although the Germans were as yet unaware of it, Operation Torch was about to severely strain Allied escort (and air) forces. Much of the resulting convoy battle would be fought in the Atlantic’s “pole of inaccessibility,” sometimes known as the Atlantic gap, where air escort could be provided only with difficulty. Shipping losses rose in the fall of 1942, but winter weather soon shut the offensive down, even as a rising weather casualties were helping provoke a shipping crisis. Clearing conditions in February 1943 brought the submarines back, and for the next four months merchant shipping losses reached very high levels, but in the later stages of the campaign, German submarine loss rates rose even more rapidly, reaching the point where a continued offensive became impossible. Supposedly, this is down to VLR B-24s. In reality,aAlthough many German submarines were sunk byLiberators in May, 1943, most were sunk in the Bay of Biscay by shorter ranged Liberator IIIs. The very small number of these sunk in the Gap were accounted for by the Liberator Is of 120 Squadron RAF. No new VLR Liberators playing a role in the great German reversal.[7]

The issue here is magic aeroplanes. The key text that started me on this research path was the claim that the Liberator (no mark specified) could patrol for three hours, 1100 miles from base, on the basis of an endurance of 16 hours. Leaving aside ambiguities between model variants and between statute and nautical miles, this is indeed an extraordinary performance. for one thing, it is far beyond US Army range figures for the standard Liberator V (B-24H). 

But that just goes to show how dumb the whole discussion is. It is both beyond the aircraft's performance card as cited in the splatbooks and perfectly possible. All you have to do is employ a range-maximising cruise profile, leave no margin for combat manoeuvres or delays in landing, and carry more fuel instead of more bombs, and the Liberator I and V, and Lancaster, and, for that matter, De Havilland basic trainer  could indeed fly this far in still-air conditions. It's not a technological miracle. It's having more fuel than you will need to burn to fly this long. The B-24Hs had strengthened wing spars supporting larger tanks tanks in the wing, while the Liberator Is were “light” aircraft by the standards of 1943 by virtue of not carrying all sorts of military necessities that weren't really needed for picking on submarines. Their all up weight of 65,000 lbs without wing failure could only lift off because 100/130 octane gasoline boosted them off the runway. Liberator Is weren't safe in the air, but  veterans of 120 Squadron crews could make them look that way, and that was enough.[8]

That  50,000 lb and 65,000 lb versions of the Liberator should have very nearly the same range, reflects a common pattern. It is very hard to push service aircraft ranges past reasonable culminating points. In general, more function at longer ranges means more weight, and more weight means more fuel, which means more weight, and more fuel to lift the weight. A standard RAF bomber of 1919, the Vickers Vimy, crossed the Atlantic just fine. (Some writers make a practice of noting that this aircraft was “modified,” but this only means that a bomb rack, simple sight, and machine gun mounting were removed , along with some crew members, and replaced by some surprisingly small auxiliary fuel tanks.) Because when Alcock and Brown reached Ireland in their Vimy, they were cold and exhausted and unable to so much as guess how much fuel was left in their tanks. They  pointed their aircraft at the first convenient stretch of flat ground, which turned out to be a bog, which was merely hilarious (Irish bog, get it?) rather than tragic because the plane was so small and so light and landed at such a low speed that the absence of wheel brakes didn't matter. Improvement meant things like aircraft speed, crew comfort, and radio quality, not more range. The issue is what you have to put on the plane to make it  useful. Oh, and weather, which is related to aircraft functionality, what with the icing and all.

 As long as RAF heavy bombers were slow enough, and expectations of crew efficiency low enough that their open cockpits were deemed habitable, celestial navigation could exploit the wide field of stars in view and follow a set of procedures synchronised to the star field’s drift across the night sky at speeds of less than 80 knots. Speed calculations and compass checks could be conducted with care, and the radio engineer paid out a long, trailing antenna that could pick up long-range, low-power short waves. Closed cockpits cut the navigator’s field of view to a tiny window, while high speeds ensured that dead reckoning fixes had to made as often as once a minute. The high-speed slipstream whipped and wrecked trailing antenna, making it necessary to use short, loaded antenna at higher frequencies and powers that were easily drowned out by engine interference, requiring spark plug shielding –but shields were soon found to greatly increase the rate of spark plug wear.
Solutions came piecemeal. The development of plexiglas made it possible to install an observatory bubble for the navigator, and more robust spark plugs were developed by British manufacturers and the RAE working in concert. Dead reckoning was automated with a very neat little piece of equipment called the Air Position Indicator that linked inputs from a compass, gyrocompass, and true airspeed indicator. Yet none of these technologies made VLR possible, for taken as a pure measure of range, “VLR” had been achieved in 1919. Rather, progress made it possible to turn VLR into ASW by allowing a combat worthy crew to rendezvous with a convoy in the mid-Atlantic. Yet excepting plexiglas, none of these developments were inevitable. They must be seen as part of a strategic process. [9]

Besides the what of VLR, there is also the where, and also a crucial when. The geographic area this article considers the Atlantic gap, up to this point undefined –and not without reason! The phrase naturally suggests a point equidistant between Newfoundland, Britain, and Iceland, Greenland, and the Azores at 33"W, 50"N, but this was not the world war’s gap. Submarines were routinely sunk in these latitudes by Catalinas in the spring of 1941. Nor should longitude be taken as a serious indicator. It ought to have been easy to close the 20 degrees of longitude between the Azores and Cape Farewell, Greenland, only 1500 statute miles, especially considering that Allied shipping typically operated in the northern portion of this interval, Medium range  Lockheed Hudsons operating from Greenland ought to have closed the Gap quite nicely. Rather, the gap existed because VLR aircraft could not operate from Newfoundland, nor medium range aircraft from Greenland during the months of crisis. This was certainly not because the Allies’ failure to develop air facilities in a timely fashion. There was a fully equipped airbase at Gander and flying boat station of Botswood in 1937, and the first Hudsons reached the new Greenland airbase of Bluie West One in February, 1943. Unfortunately, Newfoundland’s winter was not made for flying boats, and the landplane base at Greenland proved equally impractical. The CAD had foreseen this in the thirties when it planned its transatlantic air service, building runways at Gander and ordering VLR commercial landplanes for a winter service. A few exemplars of a light mail carrier type, the De Havilland Albatross, had even been completed by the outbreak of the war, while big Short and Fairey load carriers were under development, but flying from Newfoundland in winter is hard. CAD had not, by the outbreak of war, supplied the necessary snow removal equipment, lights, hangars, shops. It couldn't even supply accurate weather reports. The original Liberator base at Iceland (or, rather, Reykjavik) received less snow than Gander, albeit at the cost of dangerously strong winds and logistical difficulties became the principal base for 120 Squadron in part for this reason, but in part to win the fight for good meteorological information. British air strategy was directed against weather as much as  range. Short flying boats proved the Atlantic air route several times in 1937 at “45,000 lb., auw, carrying 18,750 lbs of fuel (plus 900 lbs of oil), demonstrating a calculated range of 2500 miles in one flight against a 40mph headwind at 160mph, although best cruising speed was 140 mph.” Analysis indicated that performance could be maintained at a  takeoff weight of 51,500 lbs, more than enough for bombs and sensors, and the abundant supply of Catalinas from the United States could do the same. The range question was settled in 1937. But let that headwind hit winter speeds and throw in a bit of icing, and no aircraft could make the flight.[11][10]

The incredible, unimaginable weight of fully-laden VLR ASW aircraft by the standards of 1940 is an indication of the burden that VLR performance imposed on contemporary aircraft, rather than of the evolution of ASW doctrine. You could, literally, fly across the Atlantic in a Tiger Moth. In the world-record setting Vickers Wellesleys of the Long Range Flight, you could virtually cross the Atlantic while orbiting a convoy.[16] It's doing something that justifies the waste of pilots that is the issue. The only viable return from the investment was a patrol flown by an aircraft with good radios, spotting capability, bomb load, and self-defence capability for operations in range of enemy fighters, thus high disposable lift. Fast aircraft gave the best results per sortie, because speed was necessary to deliver effective attacks against a fast diving submarine such as the Type VII. Defences were needed, because the ships would be operating within range of German VLR types --that is, until they weren't. A self-indulgent (is there any other kind?) legend has it that the Germans called the Short Sunderland (service entry June, 1938) "the flying porcupine" on account of its heavy armament, and that is why the Catalina, in spite of being slow and undergunned, beat it on the high seas. It turned out that those advantages were disadvantages!

When the submarine menace re-emerged in 1934, the Chiefs of Staff Committee authorised the RAF to include Coastal Command in its first expansion scheme, allowing it to raise the first 4 of the ultimately 10 squadrons of maritime cooperation landplanes on hand at the outbreak of war. Speed, defensive armament, radio, and navigational capability were all important, but the single most important factor for experienced aviators was  all-weather capability, for the German navy could be expected to avoid good flying weather for sorties! Any coastal patrol aircraft would face icing conditions, poor visibility, and awful conditions on the runways. Short landings on socked-in, icy runways meant a robust undercarriage and a huge margin of stopping power, a tall order for a retractable undercarriage in 1934.The engines would have to be utterly reliable, light, and protected from carburetor icing. Necessarily, they would be low-powered and mature, so probably obsolescent. Weatherproof navigational and radio equipment, and a gun turret for self-defence would be required, all in a capacious cabin with plenty of room for maps and charts. Absolute reliability from first service delivery was a minimum requirement. No wonder the RAF selected a proven airliner, the Avro feeder design! By 1939, it equipped all 10 squadrons and was ready for replacement by an aircraft of similar origins, the Lockheed Super Electra. There was a specification for a torpedo-carrying aircraft with a sting at the end of its reconnaissance, but once France and Norway fell into German hands, the required plane would have to be able to fly a search pattern at a distance of 300 miles or more from base, and no twin-engined aircraft of 1936 design built to British air worthiness standards could have performed such a mission while carrying a 2000 lb torpedo in even moderately adverse weather. The Anson and Hudson, as the Super Electra were renamed, had good wars.[12]

The RAF chose converted bombers for the general reconnaissance mission in 1940 because there was no other alternative. There were no suitable flying boats, including the Catalina. The Air Council had not even envisioned expanding its flying boat force beyond the ultimate level of 10 6 aircraft squadrons. In a perfect world, I suppose that it would have been ready to mass produce Short “G” flying boats to Imperial Airways, the first of which were delivered to British Airways in July, 1939, followed by the  militarised Shetland in 1944/1945, but there was no demand! If there had been, one might even have seen work on existing four-engined airliners such as the Armstrong Whitworth Ensign, Douglas DC-4, and De Havilland Albatross that might have competed with their German counterpart, the FW 200. At the same time, that's a pretty sad stable of planes that I've referenced. The design of successful four-engined long ranged aircraft was a great deal difficult than had been assumed in 1936.[13]

None of this would have been a problem had Coastal’s duties been confined to long-range ocean patrolling. Modified Short Sunderlands were perfectly capable of this. Unfortunately, ASW aircraft were soon exposed to role inflation. They were soon expected not merely to patrol out to specific distances, but to meet a convoy sailing under radio silence in mid ocean. Given the typical very limited visibility in Atlantic conditions and the long ranges of interception, this required the aircrew maintaining an extremely precise position track. It was reasonable to require that ASW aircraft pick up convoys and escort them rather than waste valuable resources patrolling the mainly empty sea. Perhaps less defensible was an additional requirement soon imposed, that these aircraft carry an effective anti-submarine loadout. As this was soon defined as a pattern of at least 4 250 lb depth charges and strafing capability, adding parasite drag. Moreover, as soon as these requirements were articulated, various authorities decided that they would have to be able to detect and attack submarines at night. Since by the summer of 1938 it was clear that this could be accomplished with radar, technology was not an issue: but, once again, weight and parasite drag was. Moreover, this equipment demanded considerable electrical supply, cabin volume, and transmitter/receiver/antenna installations. The RAF’s various bombers of 1939 had good range and armament, but were all deficient in cabin volume and electrical supply and were uncomfortable in Atlantic flying, a skimping on heat and sound insulation. In some respects, these requirements raised novel considerations. The B-24 and Short Sunderland, for instance, had onboard electrical services through an auxiliary generator, a slightly crazy waste of disposable lift, you would think. 

Radar installation difficulties were more problematic. With the exception of a few surviving fabric-covered aircraft such as the Wellington and Fairey Swordfish, it was far from easy to install antennae or transmitter/receivers. The crucial microwave circuits used in centimetric-band radar in 1939 were still virtually an experimental technology that had to be individually retrofitted into older airframes by teams of scientists and engineers. The whole process was the reverse of mass production warfare –it was improvisation by skilled technicians on an aircraft by aircraft case with technology that already existed, and that brings me back to the Long Range Flight.[14]15][17]

The first thing to notice about the Wellesleys of the LRU is that with an empty weight of 11,000lbs, they lifted off at 19,000lbs, because the Pegasus XXI  could deliver over 1000hp at sea level. That's a comment on the amount of ground-level boost that their superchargers could deliver and that their high octane fuel could take, and also on the fact that RAF Ismaili had very long runways. Infrastructure counts. 

They also had very fuel efficient engines. The 9 cylinder, 28 litre radial Bristol Pegasus XXI engine used in the Wellesley was clearly obsolescent, with its oversized cylinders and  low engine speed. but it was also a proven winner, having set three consecutive height records. an Italian license-built version had powered the Savoia-Marchetti SM 79s that swept the first five places in the 1937 Marseilles-Damascus-Marseilles long distance air race. Paradoxically, obsolescent is best when the test is long range reliability, but there was anything but obsolescence on display in the Pegasus XXI's auxiliary suite. It had a constant speed airscrew and a Claudel-Hobson “variable datum controlled” carburetor to replace a tradition of ultra-skilled pilots controllling mixture by hand with one eye on the tach and the other on exhaust gas analysers. The aircraft itself was one of Barnes-Wallis's geodetic designs, almost the first generation of "scientific" structural design, a goal that had eluded the industry until the expertise developed on dirigibles was fed back into aircraft design.[17][18]

[1] for the staff history, see Eric J. Grove, ed. (Publications of the Naval Records Society Vol.  137): Defeat of the Enemy Attack on Shipping: A revised Edition of the Naval Staff History Volumes 1A (Text and Appendices) and Volume 1B (Plans and Tables) (Aldershot, U.K.; Ashgate, 1997)) for the official historiography, see Stephen W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 3 vols.  History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series (London: HMSO, 1954-1961), where for discussions of the air component of ASW, see especially 2: 77-8, 81-2, 86-7, 89, 359-64, 450, and 3, 2: 389 and ff; Roskill’s influence, see Correlli Barnett,  Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (London: Hodder and Stoughton, [1991);and Ibid, The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation (London: Macmillan, 1986); critiques of Barnett may be found in Sebastian Ritchie, in Industry and Air Power: The Expansion of British Aircraft Production, 1935-1941 (London: F. Cass, 1997); and “The New Audit of War: The Productivity of Britain*s Wartime Aircraft Industry Reconsidered,” War and Society (May, 1995), and most forcefully, David Edgerton, Science, Technology, and the British Industrial ‘Decline,’ 1870-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). for Clay Blair, see  Hitler’s U-Boat War. 2 vols (New York: Random House, 1996-8); and for Michael Gannon, Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany’s First U-Boat Attacks Along the Atlantic Coast in World War II (New York: Harper and Row, 1990), 393–4; for John Buckley, see “Air Power and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939–45,” Journal of Contemporary History 28 (1993): 143–161; and The RAF And Trade Defence, 1919-1945: Constant Endeavour (Keele: Ryburn and Keele University Press, 1997); one work that may stand in for the “standard” historiography of the Battle of the Atlantic is  Steven E. Howarth, and Derek Law, eds. The Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945: the Fiftieth Anniversary International Naval Conference (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994); for industrial history of strategy, see also Erik Lund, “The Industrial History of Strategy: Reevaluating the Wartime Record of the British Aviation Industry in Comparative Perspective, 1919–1945,” Journal of Military History 62 (1998): 75–99
[2]One hear thinks of the Chief of the Air Staff’s report to the Staff College of 2 May, 1927, “The War Object of an Air Force,” printed in Charles K. Webster  and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive 4 vols. History of the Second World War, Military Series (London: HMSO, 1963), 4: 74–8; appended immediately following are critiques by the offices of the Army and RN Chiefs of Staff, which are of considerable interest; Trenchard’s approach to strategic analysis has been analysed many times, but for a brief and lucid account, see Malcolm Cooper,  The Birth of Independent Air Power: British Air Policy in the First World War (London: Allen and Unwin, 1986), 71–5; although there is a developing revisionist literature, for which see Philip S. Meisinger, “Trenchard and ‘Morale Bombing:’ The Evolution of Royal Air Force Doctrine Before World War II” Journal of Military History 60 (1996): 243-70
[3] The RAF was administered under the Air Ministry by a seven member Air Council, including four serving Air Officers, including the Chief of the Air Staff, presiding over a military and civil side; the RAF itself was administered by an Air Staff; for the ARC, see “Report on the Committee on Education and Research in Aeronautics,” United Kingdom, House of Commons, 1920, Command Paper 554, 9: 783–7; details of the postwar organisation of the Air Ministry can be found in Basil Collier, Heavenly Adventurer: Sefton Brancker and the Dawn of British Aviation ([n.p]: [Secker and Warburg]; [1959], 78-89, 158ff); details of Air Ministry’s expenditures (gross rather than net estimates) from United Kingdom, House of Commons, “Air Estimates,” Sessional Papers, 1922, xi. 605ff; 1923, xiii. 661ff; 1924, xiii. 671ff; 1924-25, xviii. 1ff; 1926, xviii. 1ff; 1927, xiv. 1ff; 1928-29, xi. 1ff; 1929-30, xix, 1ff; 1930-31, xix. 1ff
[4] For a succinct analysis laying out the case for a decline in British influence based on declining iron, steel, and energy production, see Paul Kennedy, Decline and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987), 199–202; O. W. Roskill, “The Census of Production, 1935,” Engineering, 7 July, 1939, 4; for Scheme J and the size of the RNAS in 1917, see Terraine, Right of the Line, 50–1, 226–7; the 19 non-ASW squadrons include 11 coastal strike types, 4 photoreconnaissance, and 4 meteorological squadrons, while 5 air search and rescue squadrons have been included in the ASW column, see Elke C. Weal,  Combat Aircraft of World War II (London: Botsford, 1977), 178.
[5] E. A. Harrop, “Planned Flying and Planned Servicing in the Royal Air Force and the Effects of Aircraft Design on Maintenance,” Jour. Roy. Aero. Soc. 51 (1949): 669.
[6] The argument that strategic bombing diverted vital resources from the Battle of the Atlantic is something close to a modern orthodoxy; for a straightforward statement of the thesis, see Henry Probert, “Allied Land-Based Anti-Submarine Warfare,” in Howarth and Law (eds.), Battle of the Atlantic, 371-387; for heavier hitters on the subject, see Richard J. Overy,  The Air War, 1939-1945 (London: Europe, 1985; republished London: Macmillan, 1987), 39; and Why the Allies Won (London: Pimlico, 1996), 50; John Terraine, Business on Great Waters: The U-Boat Wars, 1916-1945 (London: L. Cooper, 1989), 539-40; and ibid., Right of the Line, 427-35. Even at its foundation, the RAF was authorised to conduct strategic air operations only once army and naval cooperation requirements had been satisfied (Malcolm Cooper,  The Birth of Independent Air Power: British Air Policy in the First World War (London: Allen and Unwin, 1986), 101, 106), and right through 1941, RAF statements never deviated from this ([John Slessor?], “Some Aspects of British Air Strategy,” Fortune, March, 1941, 32); for the position that the Air Staff was nevertheless disingenuously resisting demands for reallocations of bombers, see Max Hastings, Bomber Command (n.p.: M. Joseph, 1979; reprinted New York: Touchstone, 1987), 46, 178; for Air Staff technical critiques of RN projects to transfer squadrons to maritime patrols, see Barnett, Engage, 461, 465; for Mediterranean orders of battles, see The Mediterranean and the Middle East, History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series, Vol. 4, I. S. O. Playfair and C. J. C. Molotny (London: HMSO, 1966), 490–7; for a Bomber Command order of battle for April 1943, see Webster and Frankland, 4: 403–15; for USAAF force information, see Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cates, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War Two, vol. 2, Europe: Torch to Pointblank; August 1942 to December 1943, by the United States Air Force Historical Center (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1949]), 15–18, 30–2, 220, 232; “BOAC” is the British Overseas Airways Corporation, the new name for Imperial Airways after its 1939–40 merger with British Airways. 
[7] The narrative drift of the preceding three paragraphs has been based on a synthesis of general histories, although it also follows a more succinct source, J. David Brown, “The Battle of the Atlantic: Peaks and Troughs,” in To Die Gallantly: The Battle of the Atlantic, ed.  Timothy J. Runyan and Jan M. Copes, 137-157 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), passim; for the specific dates of the 1942–3 crisis, see the exhaustive coverage, whatever one might think of the interpretations, in Blair, 1: 613–15, 655, 2:339; the reader may, however, wish to note several specialised works, notably Alfred Price,  Aircraft Versus Submarine: The Evolution of the Anti-Submarine Aircraft, 1912 to 1980 second ed. (London: Janes, 1980); Norman Friedman, Submarine Design and Development (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984); G. D. Franklin, “A Breakdown in Communications: Britain’s Over Estimation of ASDIC’s Capabilities in the 1930s,” The Mariner’s Mirror 84 (May, 1996): 204–214; and Willem Hackmann,  Seek & Strike: Sonar, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and the Royal Navy, 1914-1954 (London: HMSO, 1984); for examples of global histories in which VLR plays a climactic narrative role, see Gerhard L. Weinberg, World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 375; John Keegan, The Second World War (London: Hutchinson, 1989), 116, 120; Militärgeschichtliche Forschungsamt, Deutsche Reich und der zweiten Weltkrieg, 7 vols. to date (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlag-Anstalt, 1979-), 6: 362; and Pierre Miquel, La Seconde Guerre Mondiale ([Paris]: Fayard, 1984), 481-3; for the operational history details concerning 10 Squadron RCAF, see Spenser Dunmore,  The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Vol. 2. The Creation of a National Air Force ([Toronto]: University of Toronto Press in Cooperation with the Department of National Defence, 1986); in the spring of 1943, only 6 German submarines were sunk by air attack within the widest definition of the gap, between 29"W and Newfoundland coastal waters, 2 by Consolidated PBYs, and 4 by Liberator Is of 120 Squadron, operating from Iceland, none west of 35"W (for the latest and most accurate accounting of German submarine losses, see Alex Niestlé, German U-Boat Losses During World War II: Details of Destruction [Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, {1998}],  1–142).
[8] Development at Gander began in 1936 with funding from the Civil Air Directorate and the government of Newfoundland amounting to £1 million by the outbreak of war, which sufficed to supply 2 4500 ft and 1 4800 ft runway on 778 acres. The RAF and (unspecified) Canadian agencies stepped in after 1939 to spend £7 million by 1945 (“Civil Aviation News,” Flight, 21 November, 1946: 701–702; for the B-24 range figures cited, see J. H. Famme, “Design Analysis of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator,” Aviation, July, 1945, 134; “Aviation Air Annual,” Aviation, February, 1945, 180; and Terraine, Right of the Line, 428, citing Alfred Price, Aircraft Versus Submarine (London: W. Kimber, 1973); for an analysis of range performance, see George R. Schairer, (the B-24's designer), “Range Versus Payload,” Aviation, August, 1938, 25-27, 71, 74, 77; for the performance of the B-24's Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, see Paul H. Wilkinson, Aircraft Engines of the World, 1952 (London: Putnam, 1952; in United States as Aircraft Engines of the World, Ninth Revised Edition (New York: By the Author, 1952)), 151; fuel weight conversions, see James J. Heatley, “Fuel Weights for Better Flight Performance,” Aviation, March, 1944, 162–3, 307–12.; for details of Liberator I modifications, see Dunmore, 523; and “A Tool for Mr. Churchill: The Heavy Bomber,” Fortune, October, 1941, 180.
[9] The Vimy even had a reserved military load of 1100 lbs for radio, weapons or bombs (P. D. Alcland, “Transcontinental Flying,” Aeronautical Society Journal 24 [1920]: 274–5); a review of radio equipment in RAF service will be found in N. F. S. Hecht, “Radio in Aviation: A General Survey, with Special Reference to the Royal Air Force, Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers (hereafter Jour. Inst. Elec. Eng.) 85 (1939, 2), 216–17, 218, 234–36; a discussion of the drawbacks of screened spark plugs can be found in J. Ramsey, “Sparking Plugs in Aero Engines,” Flight, 2 June, 1938, 557–8; the new generation of spark plugs was first revealed as one of the President’s examples of inter-Allied cooperation in the 1943 State of the Union Address.
[10] Philip Joubert de la Ferté, “High Latitude Flying by Coastal Command in Support of Convoys to North Russia,” The Geographical Journal 108 (July–December, 1946), 22.
[11] For the British experience of ASW up to 1916, see Cooper, 49; British experiences and expectations of flying boats in a longer perspective, see H. A. Jones, The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), 4: 20, 64; and Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa, The Crisis of the Naval War (New York, N.Y.: G. H. Doran, [1920]; originally printed London: Cassell, 1920), 59-61, 87, 95–6; for plans for flying boat forward deployments to various proposed anchorages from northern Borneo to Okinawa, see Ian Cowman, Dominion or Decline: Anglo-American Relations in the Pacific, 1937-1941 (Oxford, Washington, D.C.: Berg, 1996), 29-33; on scarecrow patrols, Terraine observes that in the early part of the war, “the role of Coastal Command was what was known, in the First World War, as ‘Scarecrow’— alarming the U-boat and causing it to submerge. The best height for surface U-boat spotting was found to be 1,500–2,000 feet, but this meant that a vigilant look-out might see the aircraft before it saw the U-boat, or at least simultaneously. since a U-boat could submerge fully in 25 seconds from the sounding f the warning gone, all the aircraft was likely to see was its diving ‘swirl’. . .” (Terraine, Right of the Line, 245).For the origins of the world Catalina surplus, see Flight, 24 February, 1938, 175; and S. Paul Johnston, “Our Air Defences, II: The Navy,” Aviation, November, 1938: 26–9, 76, 78.); and  Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911 (London: Putnam, 1976), 80-86, 318-320, 452; for flying boats generally, see “The Interdependence of Home and Trade Defence,” Brassey’s Naval Annual, Ed., H. G. Thursfield (London: W. Clowes, 1939): 196-202; and “Marine Aircraft Development, 203-4; H. Burchall, “North Atlantic Flights in 1938,” Brassey’s (1938): 209-219; and Ibid,“Empire Flying Boat Routes,” Brassey’s Naval Annual (1937): 180-9; for a “pro” flying boat position, see Corelli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991], 39; given Buckley’s contention that flying boats were overly expensive, it is noteworthy that that the Sunderland was a very cost efficient aircraft to produce (Eric Mensforth, “Airframe Production,” Jour. Roy. Aero. Soc. 51 (1946): 27).
[12] For expansion details, see Charles K. Webster, and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive, 4 vols., History of the Second World War: Military Series [London: HMSO, 1963]), 4: 123; for the Ansons, see Terraine, Right of the Line, 227–8; the early history of this aircraft, ultimately derived from a licensed Fokker design, is discussed in A. J. Jackson, Avro Aircraft since 1908, revised and updated by R. T. Jackson (London: Putnam, 1990); it was also produced in the United States and Canada; the merit of using a commercial engine was that most commercial engines had claimed service periods between major overhauls of 600 hours or more, compared to 250 hours for military engines, that roughly half of all maintenance was on engines, and that some 80% of RAF manpower was in the maintenance echelons; for the British connections of the Hudson/A-28/PV, see “Airline Fleet Maintenance,” Flight, 15 June, 1939, 616–18); for the tortured history of the Blackburn Botha, see A. J. Jackson, Blackburn Aircraft since 1909 (New ed. London: Putnam, 1989), s.v. “Botha;” Order of battle information extracted from John Farnon, The Battle of Britain: The Forgotten Months, November, December, 1940 (Elm Road, New Madden, Surrey: Air Research, 1988), 7;on losses, the historians of RAE Farnmsborough note that “[f]rom a morale point of view, it was as well that the public did not know that, in the first year of the war, fifty Lockheed Hudson patrol bombers ... were lost at sea without a trace” (Reginald Turnbull and Arthur Reed, Farnborough: The Story of RAE with a foreword by Brian Tubshaw [London: R. Hale, 1980], 50); to put this in perspective, total RAF losses of Blenheim bombers in the desperate operations from 10 May-3 June, 1940 was only twice this, and many of those crews survived.
[13] For the G boat, see “The Biggest Short,” Flight, 20 July, 1939, d–e, h–i, 60; costs, compare Penrose, 4: 420 (£60,000 cost of the G boats) with the £77,000 price cited in Michael M. Postan, D. Hay, and J. D. Scott, Design and Development of Weapons: Studies in Government and Industrial Organisation, History of the Second World War; Civil Series (London: HMSO, 1964), 23–4, although as this datum was extracted in an attempt to suggest that British aircraft production costs were unnecessarily high, this figure may be overstated.
[14] For details of routine ASW operations, see Terraine, Right of the Line, 223–40; for auxiliary drives, particularly in the Rolls-Royce Merlin, see Bill Gunston,  Rolls-Royce Aeroengines (London: Stephens, 1989)for the need for heating in Arctic flying, see R. Winfield, “Notes on the Medical Aspects of the Aries Flight,” Geographical Magazine, 107 (January–June, 1946); for the costs of equipment installation, see Eric  Mensforth, “Airframe Production,” Proceedings of the  Institute of  Mechanical Engineers  156 (1947): 33; for installation difficulties, see J. A. Ratcliffe, “Aerials for Radar Equipment.” J. Inst.  Elec.  Eng.  93, Part IIIA (Radiolocation) (1946): 22-32.
[15]For the Stirling’s difficulties, see Michael Bowyer, The Short Stirling [London: Hammond, 1989], 34-5; for the rationalisation of British bomber projects and an exhaustive treatment of military “never weres,” albeit without extended policy discussion, see Francis K. Mason,  The British Bomber since 1914 (London: Putnam, 1994) discussions in this text of the early engine difficulties of the Stirling and of the Beaufighter, in Ibid, The British Fighter since 1914 (London: Putnam, 1994), are my authority for claiming that the military Hercules experienced early teething difficulties; there is no comprehensive monograph on British prewar aviation fuel policy, but noted British fuel chemist F. R. Banks laid out RAF thinking indirectly but clearly in “Fuels and Engines,” Flight, 28 September, 1939, 269–70..
[16] Long range flight details, see Flight for Oct.  13, 1938, 311; Nov.  10, 1938, 414,  Ibid., Nov 17, 1938, 458; Ibid., June 15, 1939, 616; December 16, 1937, 601; May 20, 1937, 502; and Aviation, December, 1938, 52 also G. H. Burchall, “North Atlantic Flights in 1938,” in H. G. Thursfield, ed. Brasssey’s Naval Annual, 1938 (London: W. Clowes, 1938), 209-19; according to Owen Thetford, (see Aircraft of the RAF Since 1918 6th Ed (London: Putnam, 1976),) modifications of the Long Range Unit’s Wellesleys were confined to a long cowl to cover the specially-modified Bristol Perseus XXI engines used in them.
[17] For comparative disposable lift figures, see H.F. King, “Transports Today and Tomorrow,” Flight, 28 April, 1938: c–f; R. A. E. Luard, “Transport Comparisons,” Flight, 6 January, 1938, 16; for a general analysis of the parameters of long range flight, see F. M. Green, “Aircraft Propulsion,” Proceedings of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 156 (January–December, 1947): 176–9, 182–5 for the relationship between statics and aerodynamics, especially in Germany and the role of airship design, see Lutz Budraß,  Flugzeugindustrie und Luftrüstung in Deutschland 1918–1945 (Düsseldorf: Droste, [1998]), 29–31, 78–80; an article on geodetics was published in the July, 1936 Aviation by Vickers engineer Oliver Stewart, (“Egg Shell Airplanes: Geodetic Construction Increases Bomber Range 2 1/2 Times,”Aviation, July, 1936, 23–25; a similar but anonymous article (“Great Circle Engineering,”) was published in The Aeroplane, 6 January, 1936; the weight problems of the Halifax are discussed in Brian Johnson and Terry Hefferman, Boscombe Down 1939–45: A Most Secret Place [{London}]: Jane’s, {1982},1–13]; and explained by the highly critical comments of  retired Air Ministry Director of Technical Development W. O. Manning, and Hawker Chief Designer Sidney Camm to  J. Robinson, “Some Developments in Aircraft Production,” (J. Roy. Aero. Soc. 43 (1949): 39–66); the importance of these methods in American aircraft production is underlined in T. P. Wright, “American Methods of Aircraft Production,” Jour. Roy. Aero. Soc 43 (1939): 51.); for an overview of these methods as used in the B-24H, see Irving Brinton. Holley, Jr., Buying Aircraft: Matériel for the Army Air Forces. A work in the series US Army in World War II (Washington: GPO, 1964), 541; the importance of component finish can be seen by comparing the average price of structural elements in the British aeronautical industry compared to engineering industry average in 1935 (O. W. Roskill, “The Census of Production, 1935,” Engineering, 7 July, 1939, 5, and 14 July, 1939, 36); for the arduous design effort behind the final Lancaster, see Francis K. Mason,  The Avro Lancaste (Bourne End, U.K.: Aston, 1989), 27–30.
[18] For details on Pegasus, see “Bristol Fashion: Rise of the Radial,” Flight, 9 March, 1939: 240; for an interesting perspective, note the engine difficulties in the B-29 record flight documented in “American Newsletter,” Flight, 7 February, 1946: 155–6; and the correction in “Here and There,” Flight, 14 February, 1946: 165; details of Italian use, see “The Marseilles-Damascus-Paris,”Flight, August 26, 1937: 204-7.


  1. I can't remember how much the following touches on pre-war policy, but I suspect it may be of interest: Bailey, G. (2008) “The Narrow Margin of Criticality: The Question of the Supply of 100-Octane Fuel in the Battle of Britain,” The English Historical Review CXXIII(501), 394-411.

    ISTR that one of the other issues in the Bomber/Coastal Command resource allocation debate was about centimetric radar. AIUI the existing historiography argues that Bomber Harris managed to get the initial sets for use in H2S installations; when these were salvaged from crashed airframes they gave the Germans the secret of the cavity magnetron. Any comments?

  2. I remember talking to Gavin about it in the 90s. It's some great work that really advances our knowledge. It's also understates the importance of high test fuel, unfortunately, because it overlooks ground-level boosting. (Cramming air into the cylinders to increase takeoff power.)

    Not that I blame Gavin. The interaction between pitch control, engine boosting and airscrew reduction gearing is complicated. People couldn't explain it to policy makers at the time, so it isn't surprising that historians can't put it into context now.

    As for the question of the H2S pseudo-controversy: do I have something to say? A lot, really. But I managed to get online five minutes before I leave for work. Check back soon, folx!