> Units and Formations
Updated: 26 Sep 12
Group. In 1939 there were 6 groups in Bomber Command, 5 (No 2 Gp to No 6 Gp) the United Kingdom and a sixth (Advanced Air Striking Force - AASF) in France. HQ No 5 Gp was based at RAF Grantham for most of WWII. Groups were normally commanded by an Air Vice Marshall. In 1942 an additional level of command was added below the Group, the Base.
Base. The Base was added to simplify command, normally grouping 2 'satellite' airfields to a main airfield. The Base was commanded by an Air Commodore. Below the Base came the stations.
Bomber Command expansion to meet the wartime offensive needs in 1942-43 put a severe strain on organisation administration to the extent that the intermediate level of command between Group HQs and Station - the Base - was introduced in March 1943. A Base consisted of a Base Station with one or two sub-stations. Each Base was initially identified by the name of the Base Station and the role of the Base, eg Topcliffe Training Base, Leeming Operational Base. However, from September 1943 Bases were re-designated by a two-number identifier, the first number indicating the Group and the second the number of the Base within that Group, the first in each Group being the Group's training Base. These are listed below under the Groups.
The introduction of four-engined aircraft towards the end of 1940, provided an increase in aircraft servicing problems which the new heavy bombers demanded, including shortages of technical personnel and hangarage. The ban on the use of permanent hangars which had been evacuated during 1940 was relaxed in 1942. Group servicing units were envisaged to undertake all major aircraft servicing within the squadrons of a Group. However with no 'spare airfields to dedicacte to this activity the smaller units of Base Organisations were formed.
Station. Each station was a separate airbase from which flying squadrons could generate flying sorties. Stations were commanded by a Group Captain. Each station usually hosted 2 flying squadrons.
Squadron. Each squadron was commanded by a Wing Commander and normally comprised 2 or 3 Flights.
Flight. A Flight would normally be equipped with 8 aircraft and have a Squadron Leader as Officer in Charge.
Throughout the entire bombing offensive, the bomber organization was highly centralized and controlled by Bomber Command Headquarters. Groups were responsible for ensuring the crews were briefed according to Bomber Command instructions (routes to and from the targets, altitudes, numbers of aircraft and bomb load), while the stations provided the domestic support and the squadrons provided administration and aircraft maintenance only. However, this changed in March 1943, when Bomber Command reorganized into the Bomber Operational Base System; this system brought several small bases under one station commander and it centralized the administration and maintenance on this new large station. This reorganization reduced squadrons to the aircrew and basic servicing capabilities only (gas, oil, starts and parks).
Jul 1941 saw the Chiefs of Staff make one of their most important statements with respect to bombing operations, signaling their support for total war from the air and an all-out offensive by the only Service able to target the enemy's centres of gravity effectively at the time. "We must first destroy the foundations upon which the German war machine runs - the economy which feeds it, the morale which sustains it, the supplies which nourish it and the hopes of victory which inspire it. Only then shall we be able to return to the continent and occupy and control portions of his territory and impose our will on the enemy . . . . it is on bombing on a scale undreamed of in the last war, that we find the new weapon on which we must principally depend for the destruction of economic life and morale."
Following the extreme attrition of the Bomber Command force during 1941 this was superseded on 14 Feb 1942 by a new area bombing directive. "It has been decided that the primary objective of your operations should be focused on the morale of the enemy civil population and in particular the industrial workers". The Chief of the Air Staff, Lord Portal supplemented with his own thoughts "I suppose it is clear that the Aiming Points are to be the built up areas and not the dockyards or aircraft factories."
Almost a year later on 14 Jan 1943 a new directive was received which pulled the weight of effort away from German targets. The continuing U-boat threat caused the U-boat bases on the western French coast to be given priority status. Lorient, St Nazaire, Brest and La Pallice, together with the U-boat construction yards in Germany were targeted. Italian cities were also to be targeted to help force Italy out of the war.
Most bombing operations were carried out by night to afford a measure of force protection against ground-based air defences and German fighter aircraft. The small proportion of daylight attacks which were conducted initially used the Blenheim, later Boston, Ventura and Mosquito. Night bombing came into its own in early 1941. The initial target set focused on oil infrastructure and ops were flown by the Wellington, Whitley and Hampden. Targeting priorities soon changed and by Mar 1941 the ports and shipyards associated with capital ships and the U boat threat were the primary target. Other targets in support of the Battle of the Atlantic were the factories and airfields which supporting the Focke Wolfe Condor reconnaissance platform which patrolled the North Atlantic. Key bombing operations are listed on the Key Dates page.
A review of Bomber Command battles and operations can be found on the 550 Sqn website :: click here.
Sir Richard Peirse :: - 8 Jan 1942 (posted to India)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris :: 22 Feb 1942 -
No 8 Gp (Path Finder Force)
The Path Finder Force (PFF) was upgraded to Group status on 8 Jan 1943 and became No 8 Gp Bomber Command.
No 100 Gp
100 Group was the radio counter-measures Group specialising in offensive Electronic Warfare (EW). It flew its first operational sorties on 30 Nov 1943.
RAF Waddington was to lose more bomber aircraft on operations than any other Bomber Command station. Of a total 345 losses, 103 were Hampden, 15 were Manchester and 227 Lancaster.
AOC-in-C of Bomber Command
Overview of WWII Bomber Command ops on 550 Sqn
Bomber Command History by the Ridgewell Association
Aquila Lincolnshire Aviation History: Bomber Command
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