Circumventing the law that humans cannot see in the dark: an assessment of the development of target marking techniques in the prosecution of the bombing offensive during the Second World War
Freer, Paul George
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Royal Air Force Bomber Command entered the Second World War committed to a strategy of precision bombing in daylight. The theory that bomber formations would survive contact with the enemy was soon dispelled an it was obvious that Bomber Command would have to switch to bombing at night. The difficulties of locating a target at night soon became apparent. In August 1941, only one in three of those crews claiming to have bombed a target had in fact been within five miles of it. And yet, less than four years later, it would be a very different story. By early 1945, 95% of aircraft despatched bombed within 3 miles of the Aiming Point and the average bombing error was 600 yards. How, then, in the space of four years did Bomber Command evolve from an ineffective force failing even to locate a target to the fomidable force of early 1945. In part, the answer lies in the advent of electronic navigation aids that, in 1941, were simply not available. By 1945, electronic aids such as GEE, Oboe and H2S were widely in use. Secondary lierature on the bombing offensive tends to attribute the improvement in bombing performance to the introduction of these aids. However, the introduction of these aids was only part of the story. These aids could not, in themselves, circumvent the law that human beings cannot see in the dark. Having reached the target area with the benefit of navigation aids, some form of idenfifying the Aiming Point was necessary if the target was to be accurately bombed. Part of the reason for the effcetiveness of Bomber Command by early 1945 therefore lies in the development of techniques for the identification and marking of targets. Although the development of navigation aids is well documented, the development of techniques for target marking has received much less attention. The aim of this thesis is to examine this largly neglected aspect of the bombing offensive. The key question asked is: what difference did the introduction of taregt marking techniques make to the performance and efficacy of Bomber Command.
PhD in History