Dehousing

Dehousing

For the general tactic, see House demolition

On on 30 March 1942 Lord Cherwell, the British government's leading scientific adviser, sent to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill a memorandum which after it had become accepted by the Cabinet became known as the dehousing paper.

The paper was delivered during an internal debate within the British government about the most effective use of the nation's limited resources in waging war on Germany. Should the Royal Air Force (RAF) be scaled back to allow more resources to go to the British Army and Royal Navy or should the strategic bombing option be followed and expanded? The paper argued that, from the analysis of the reaction of the British population to the Blitz, the demolition of people's houses was the most effective way to affect their morale, (more effective than killing relatives). So given the known limitations of the RAF in locating precision targets in Germany, and providing the planned resources were made available to the RAF, destroying about thirty percent of the housing stock of Germany's fifty-eight largest towns was the most effective use of the aircraft of RAF Bomber Command, because it would break the spirit of the Germans. After a heated debate by the government's military and scientific advisers, the Cabinet chose the strategic bombing campaign over the other options available to them.

Contents of the dehousing paper

Contemporary debate, the Butt and Singleton reports

The dehousing paper had been delivered to Churchill at a time of mounting criticism about the RAF bomber offensive. This amortising was coming from other branches inside the War ministry and was also surfacing in the public arena.

It had started with a report, initiated by Cherwell, and delivered on 18 August 1941 by Mr D. M. Butt, a member of the War Cabinet Secretariat. The report based on analysis of aerial photographs concluded that less than one third of sorties flown got within five miles (eight km) of the target. As Butt did not include those aircraft that did not bomb because of equipment failure, enemy action, weather, or simply getting lost, the reality was that about five per cent of bombers setting out bombed within five miles of their target.

Senior RAF commanders argued that the Butt's statistics were faulty and commissioned their own report. This report was delivered by the Directorate of Bombing Operations on 22 September 1941 and which working from a damage analysis inflicted on British cities and calculated that with a bomber force of 4,000 they could destroy the forty-three German towns with a population of more than 100,000. The Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal argued with such a force RAF Bomber Command could win the war in six months. Not all were convinced and when Churchill expressed his doubts the Air Staff retrenched and said that even if it did not knock Germany out of the war it would weaken them sufficiently to allow British armed forces back in to continental Europe. With this compromise between the armed services, Bomber Command was allowed to keep its planned allocation of war materiel. However this did not stop those outside the Chiefs of Staff questioning the strategic bombing policy.

A particularly damning speech had been delivered in the House of Commons by the Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge, Professor A. V. Hill who pointed out that "The total [British] casualties in air-raids – in killed – since the beginning of the war are only two thirds of those we lost as prisoners of war at Singapore ... The loss of production is the worst month of the Blitz as only equal to that of due to the Easter holidays ... The air ministry have been ... too optimistic ... we know most of the bombs we drop hit nothing of importance. ..." So, the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair and Sir Charles Portal were delighted by the dehousing paper as it offered support to them in their battle to save the strategic bomber offensive which had been under attack from others in the high command who thought that the resources put into bomber command were damaging the other branches of the armed services with little to show for it.

On reading the dehousing paper, Professor Patrick Blackett the chief scientist to the Royal Navy said that the paper's estimate of what could be achieved was 600% too high. The principal advocate for the scaling back of RAF Bomber Command in favour of other options was Sir Henry Tizard. He argued that the only benefit to strategic bombing was that it tied up enemy resources defending Germany, but that that those forces could be tied up with a far smaller bombing offensive. He wrote to Cherwell on 15 April querying the facts in the paper and warning that the War Cabinet could reach the wrong decision if they based their decision on the paper. His criticisms of the paper was that on past experience only 7,000 bombers would be delivered not the 10,000 in the paper and since only 25% of the bombs were likely to land on target the total dropped would be no more than 50,000 so the strategy would not work with the resources available.

Mr. Justice Singleton, a High Court Judge, was asked by the Cabinet to look into the competing points of view. In his report, that was delivered on 20 May 1942, he concluded that:

In the end, thanks in part to the dehousing paper, it was this view which prevailed, but C. P. Snow (later Lord Snow) wrote that the debate became quite vitriolic with Tizard being called a defeatist. It was while this debate about bombing was raging inside the British military establishment that the area bombing directive of 14 February 1942 was issued and eight days later that Arthur "Bomber" Harris took up the post of Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Bomber Command.

Notes

References

  • Copp, Terry; The Bomber Command Offensive , originally published in the Legion Magazine September/October 1996
  • Longmate, Norman; The Bombers: The RAF offensive against Germany 1939-1945; Pub. Hutchinson; 1983; ISBN 0091515807

Further reading

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