Bomber Command

During the Second World War Australian aircrew with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) were trained in Australia, Canada and Rhodesia under the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS). This scheme trained Australian aircrew before sending them to the United Kingdom to fly on offensive air operations against the Germans and Italians.

The first ground instruction schools and flying courses opened in Australia in 1940 and by March 1941 individual RAAF men were joining Bomber Command squadrons.

31 January 2020

Australian squadrons

Bomber Command was a multi-national force and Australian aircrew could be assigned to one of the Australian squadrons, or to a Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadron. The first two Australian squadrons were formed in 1941 (No 455 and No 458), but by 1942 No 460 Squadron and 467 were the only RAAF squadrons with Bomber Command. Further RAAF squadrons were formed throughout the war and combined there were 17 squadrons with the RAAF formed within the RAF.

Early days

Bomber Command began attacking Germany days after France was invaded in 1940. The Bomber Command strategy until mid-1941 was to attack petrol and oil supplies, and transportation systems such as railways. In August 1941, a survey of bombing accuracy over Germany at night revealed that just 30 per cent of bombers found their way to within five miles of specific targets. The main difficulties were flying in darkness, bad weather and primitive navigation aids.

1942–1945

1942 was a turning point for the Bomber Command with the appointment of Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris, and the arrival of new four-engine bombers, such as the Lancaster, and more advanced navigational aids.

On 30 May 1942 the first mass area attack (called thousand bomber raid) was launched against Cologne in Germany, with over a thousand aircraft attacking. This attack was twice the size of any previous formation and was a success as the German defences were overwhelmed by the seemingly endless waves of bombers.  Two further thousand bomber raids were carried out in May and June 1942, and in August 1942 the ‘Pathfinder’ force was created. This force was a specialist target finding unit who would locate the target and mark it with large coloured flares (‘Target Indicators’) which the main force then aimed at.

For the next 3 ½ years Bomber Command raided Germany night after night. In 1943 there were concentrated efforts against three major targets in what became known as the Battle of Ruhr, the Battle of Hamburg and the Battle of Berlin. From November 1943 – March 1944 Bomber Command launched 16 major attacks against Berlin, with a total of 9105 aircraft dispatched and more than 539 of these lost.  During the final days of the war, Lancasters were employed flying liberated prisoners of war back to England as well as dropping desperately needed food supplies to starving Dutch civilians in Operation ‘Manna’.

Bomber command suffered huge casualties. Of some 125,000 aircrew 55,000 were killed on air operations. Of these around 3500 were Australian, making the bombing campaign against Germany and Italy Australia’s costliest campaign of the Second World War.

Fast facts

Australians who served

  • Some 10,000 Australians served with the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command during WWII
  • Served in the United Kingdom as part of the Allied offensive against the Germans

Major units

  • 17 RAAF Squadrons were formed within the RAF during WWII, of which 8 served with Bomber Command.
  • RAAF Bomber Command squadrons  included 455, 458, 460, 462, 463, 464, 466 and 467 Squadron

Casualties

  • Sustained Australia’s highest casualty rates in Second World War
  • 3,486  killed in action
  • 650 died in training accidents

Specific medals

  • 2 VC, 62 DSO, 1 MC, 1609 DFC, 3 AFC, 1 DCM, 6 CGM, 1 MM, 297 DFM, 3 AFM and a number of foreign awards.

Countries involved

  • Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Czechoslovakia, France and Poland

Aircraft

  • Mosquito, Halifax, Lancaster, Stirling, Wellington, Hampden, Whitley, Blenheim, Battle

Commemorations

  • Commonwealth Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park London
  • Australian Bomber Command Memorial, Australian War Memorial Canberra

More information