During my father’s (George Edwin Farrar, waist gunner of the 384th Bomb Group during WWII) confinement as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft IV, he had a British roommate in the POW camp named Lawrence Newbold. Dad and Lawrence were also companions on the 86-day, 500-mile march of POW’s across Germany from 6 February 1945 to their liberation on 2 May 1945.
Lawrence Newbold, an enlistee in the British Royal Air Force (RAF), served as a wireless operator on an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber with the 50 Squadron based at Skelllingthorpe, England in the East Midlands.
Because of this personal connection my father had to a member of the RAF, I will, in a series of posts, take a look at an overview of the RAF in World War II, the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber that Lawrence Newbold flew in, and the mission on which he became a prisoner of war.
World War II began in Europe on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Two days later on 3 September, Great Britain along with France, Australia, and New Zealand, declared war on Germany.
The United States did not enter World War II for two more years, leaving Great Britain and the Allies to battle the Nazis on their own.
The British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Bomber Command had been created a few years earlier, in 1936, and began with light and heavy bomber squadrons.
By 1939, RAF Bomber Command was comprised of twenty-three bomber squadrons with two hundred eighty aircraft. With this number of planes, the RAF was able to bomb military targets like warships and airfields, and they did so in daylight hours, making themselves easy targets, and resulting in heavy losses. In 1939, night missions were reserved for the purpose of dropping leaflets.
Night-time bombing missions started in 1940 after the Nazis invaded France. Targets were German industry and especially synthetic oil production targets. However, identification of specific targets was almost impossible in the dark and the nighttime bombing missions were not particularly effective.
In 1941, RAF Bomber Command grew in strength, but nighttime navigation was still a problem. With German fighters and anti-aircraft (flak) guns becoming more effective, RAF losses were heavy.
On 7 December 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On 8 December, the United States and Great Britain declared war on Japan. On 11 December, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
Great Britain and the United States were now allies fighting common enemies, Germany and Japan.
In 1942, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris became the new leader of RAF Bomber Command. Also, Bomber Command received the new Avro Lancaster heavy bomber and by June of that year, seven squadrons were using the Lancaster. In 1942, it was also determined that nighttime precision bombing was not working and the British War Cabinet made the decision to authorize ‘area bombing,’ in which entire cities were targeted to destroy both factories and workers.
The year 1942 was also the year that the the first American heavy bomber mission was launched from England. On 17 August 1942, the US Army Air Forces made it first attack on occupied Europe.
Twelve B-17E Heavy Bombers of the 97th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force were escorted by RAF (British Royal Air Force) Spitfires against the railroad marshalling yards at Rouen-Sotteville, France. Six other aircraft flew a diversion mission along the French coast.
The mission was deemed a success with only minor damage to two aircraft. These first American bombers left from the air base at Grafton Underwood, future home of the 384th Bomb Group.
Text of the above memorial plaque: The first and last bombs dropped by the 8th Air Force were from aeroplanes flying from Grafton Underwood. With the plaque is Budd Peaslee, first commander of the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood.
By 1943, an ‘around the clock’ offensive against the Nazis was in place, with RAF Bomber Command continuing night missions and the USAAF Eighth Air Force flying daylight missions over Nazi-occupied territory. American bombers suffered substantial losses due to lack of fighter support over enemy territory. Also in 1943, the RAF Pathfinder Force introduced the use of colored marker flares to guide the bombers to their targets.
By 1944, the combined RAF and USAAF bomber forces began to overwhelm the Germans. By the spring of 1944, Allied escort fighters had been improved to be able to fly deeper into Germany, better protecting the Allied bombers from German fighter attack. RAF Bomber Command was able to begin operating in daylight again, but continued the ‘area bombing’ attacks on entire cities. The Allied fighters inflicted heavy damage on the Luftwaffe (German Air Force).
By 1945, the RAF had one hundred eight squadrons with over fifteen hundred aircraft. The Allied bombings robbed Germany of fuel for their military machine, and industrial city after city had been destroyed. Victory over Germany was declared on 8 May 1945, but once the war was over, RAF Bomber Command had lost over 55,000 aircrew members.
To be continued…
Previous post, Laurie Newbold
Imperial War Museum – RAF Bomber Command During The Second World War
American Battle Monuments Commision – Beginnings of the 8th Air Force in World War II
Wikipedia – 97th Operations Group
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022