Definition of an Operational Tour
An operational tour for a Bomber Command crew consisted of thirty, non-aborted, operational sorties.
Upon completion of their tour, the crew would normally be rested and transferred to non-operational units as instructors. However, it was not uncommon for a rested crew member to volunteer for a second bomber tour.
The exception to the thirty rule applied to the crews of Pathfinder Force (No. 8 Group) Squadrons.
Pathfinder crew were required to complete forty-five sorties before being rested due to the amount of training / practice that was required to become proficient in target marking.
Photographs taken from the underside of the aircraft during the bombing run were utilised to confirm that the crew had completed one of their non aborted operational sorties.
This required the bomb aimer to release a “photoflash” from the flare chute as and when he released the first bomb. The photoflash exploded in accordance with the timed fuze and, with the pilot ensuring that he flew straight and level for about 30 seconds, the automatic camera would take the picture.
The following is an actual photograph taken by the automatic camera on one of the crew’s sorties.
Operations Record Book
The station adjutant maintained records of squadron activities in an Operations Record Book (Form 540). Although not always 100% accurate, they served as a written document similar to a daily diary.
They provided summary information on:
- sorties undertaken
- aircraft / crew losses
- planes delivered
- officers arriving / departing
- promotions / awards
Extract from an Operations Record Book (Form 540) [© Crown Copyright]
In addition, the adjutant recorded details of all sorties undertaken by the squadron (Form 541) which was based on information obtained from the crews at debriefing sessions after a raid.
Information recorded included:
- the aircraft serial number and call sign
- the crew members;
- the PFF role performed (eg Visual Marker, Blind Marker);
- the take off and landing time;
- the bomb release information, including the armaments dropped and the altitude, direction, speed and time of the drop;
- the weather conditions and the crews’ assessment of the raid.
Extract from an Operations Record Book (Form 541) [© Crown Copyright]
Allied Bombing Strategy
At the time of the crew’s tour, Bomber Command’s focus was on targets associated with (a) the petroleum industry (b) the rail and waterway systems (c) vehicle production. Major German cities were also targeted.
The targeting of the major German cities “to undermine the morale of the German people” provoked considerable parliamentary and moral debate throughout the war.
The debate, which primarily centred on the loss of civilian life caused by the area and fire bombing of heavily populated industrial towns and cities, continues to this day.
The moral debate: Two views on two views