Eh?

With quiet stoicism, Taverner completed 41 missions over two tours as a navigator flying in Halifax bombers with No 51 Squadron. For this he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The odds on aircrew surviving a single tour of 30 missions were about 1 in 6. The odds on surviving a second tour were even worse.

5/6 ths of Bomber Command aircrew died over a 30 mission tour?

5/6ths of crews lost at least one member of crew over a 30 mission tour?

Or they’ve got the odds the wrong way around – 1/6th died?

39 comments on “Eh?

  1. No, it’s right. Overall casualty rate for Bomber Command in the war was 44.4% killed, and a further 7% or so wounded. Losses on each mission were around 5% (but sometimes higher, especially earlier in the war). A tour would be thirty missions. Not good odds.

  2. “Overall casualty rate for Bomber Command in the war was 44.4% ”

    Perhaps the difference is between odds and fractions.
    5 to 6 is about 45%

  3. “especially those that signed up for a second tour knowing the chance of surviving was zero”

    Chance of surviving a second “at that stage” (all other things being equal) was still 21% (Bayes and all that)…

  4. Small pedantic point: Casualties is not the same thing as deaths. Casualties includes wounded and prisoners of war.

  5. And a historical pedantic point – largely reflecting Max Hastings’ excellent book Bomber Command’s central message: From late 1943 onwards the casualty rate was much lower. Lancasters, Mosquitoes as pathfinders, bomber streams, use of ‘window, the grinding down of the Luftwaffe – all made a big difference. Serving early in the war in a Halifax or a Sterling was a much, much nastier proposition than bouncing the rubble in 1944.

  6. Second tour crews should have been better placed to survive. The first few trips in the first tour are the most dangerous. Of course there are different definitions of survive going on. Not coming back doesn’t mean dead. Getting wounded doesn’t mean you can’t recover. Bomber Command loss rates are of aircraft failing to return, not dead aircrew.

    Fun fact, you were better off in a Halifax if you were hit, more of the crew got out, on average. Being in a Lancaster you had a better chance of not being hit but a worse chance of getting out. If you were in a Stirling, well..

  7. I know a guy who was in a Halifax. He bailed out over Germany on the worst night of RAF history. Spent the rest of the war in a Stalag Luft. This year they put out a call in the local church remembrance service for a roll of honour of those that served. I almost put him forward but thought, well he served yes, so did a high proportion of his generation, but pretty sure he’d want the service to be for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, i.e. his pilot.

  8. > Being in a Lancaster you had a better chance of not being hit but a worse chance of getting out.

    Yup, there was a lot more room in a Halifax and the central spar in the Lancaster fuselage made moving around really difficult. IIRC.

    The biggest problem with the Halifax were the engines. Originally, they’d being going to have radials, but MOD insisted on Merlins. Huge exhaust trails (visible from several hundred metres) and constrained altitude meant it was the first thing the Luftwaffe got to. Attempts to fix the exhaust flare meant even worse performance.

    The finally got around to sorting the engines out late in the war, shortly before phasing the plane out of most bomber command operations.

    My dad had been scheduled to be a WT/Navigator aircrew in Bomber Command, failed a medical, was told to re-apply in a few months, but was sent to India before he got chance… Lucky me I think.

  9. Am I allowed to wear a poppy in recognition of their sacrifice?

    Or is that beyond the pale as I am a privileged white male?

    But still alive and kickin’

  10. Aircraft (and hence whole crew) loss rate per mission was usually in the range 3% to 10%.
    Say 5% per.
    So raise 0.95 to the 30th power…..
    Only a small percentage of losses were able to bail and be captured, mostly they died.
    So yes, probablity of not being killed in 30 missions was low: 1 in 5 or 6.

    Except. Losses were predominantly of rookies: surviving the first few missions greatly reduced the loss rate for the survivors.

    It also depended on aircraft: Lancs were good, Halifax and Stirlings were bad, because they flew slower and lower.

    So this chap was very brave, very good and very very lucky.

  11. I gather the survival statistics for bomber crews was more complex than straight odds. Crews on their first sorties had a high loss rate. Experience taught them survival skills & the loss rates dropped significantly, mid tour. But loss rates climbed towards the ends of tours. Fatigue. Over confidence…

  12. Incompetence could also be your friend.

    I knew a man slightly, a navigator, who wasn’t known for his practical skills.

    On one particularly disastrous raid over Germany, the squadron was caught on the return and mostly wiped out. This man had got confused and taken them entirely the wrong way. The error was corrected just in time from a fuel point of view, and they missed the ambush.

  13. I met a German cvnt once who said his Dad as a boy had witnessed, and just survived, the destruction of Dresden. Then went on to slag off Bomber Command for its inhumane act.

    I asked for his views on the Blitz, Coventry and Belsen.

  14. @BraveFart

    Quite agree.

    It’s better not to have wars at all but if you’re going to fight one you do everything in your power to kill as many of the enemy as you can and preserve as many of your own people as you can.

    German cities were a (relatively) easy target by the end of the war but only because of the sacrifices and costs earlier in the war. What should the RAF have done? Look for harder targets? Dresden was bombed in February 1945. had the Germans surrendered in January it wouldn’t have happened.

    As (I think) some American general said about the Iraq campaign which toppled Saddam, “it’s not supposed to be a fair fight”

  15. DocBud

    The answer, as I am sure you guessed, is a clear and strident no (definitely not a Fenian and I wouldn’t have played for Stoke even if I had been good enough, which I wasn’t) and, as you exhort, I have every intention of wearing my poppy with pride.

    My grandfather fought in the First World War, lost all his mates at Passchendaele and somehow lived to the sixties.

    There is no glorification of war in my memory (as some d*ckheads claim), merely remembrance of sacrifice and a life of someone from my family screwed up by the experience.

  16. A relative of mine (on my dad’s side but there was some cloudy out of wedlock stuff so not quite sure) was one of the 19,000 odd killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Pte Ernest Luke Moss. Somerset Light Infantry. He was in his early 30s when he joined up to become part of that amateur army that got slaughtered in their first big battle.

    From the battalion records we even know roughly what happened. Walked over the first line of trenches but hadn’t done a good job of clearing them.. Germans came back up and they were caught between the first and second lines.

    It’s one thing think of it as history but sobering to think that history happened to people. Just as real as the ones that we see every day. Just as real as we are.

  17. He doesn’t sound like the sort of person who would have a public nervous breakdown over a judicial nomination in a foreign country, or give a shit about Palestine. Clearly “far right” and suspect.

  18. “Dresden was bombed in February 1945”: at which point the Germans were still bombing London, weren’t they, with V-2s?

    The Low Countries, Antwerp particularly, were also being bombarded with V-1s through to March 1945.

  19. iirc Mosquitoes had an excellent survival record: due to triangular structure and skin not being a stressed member they could continue flying with huge damage.

    When Mosquitoes were used as sub-hunters, plane visibly slowed when gun fired

    RAF were incredibly brave.

  20. “Pcar

    iirc Mosquitoes had an excellent survival record: due to triangular structure ”

    Being, for their time, fast as fuck didn’t do any harm either.

    I’m sure I read that they could set out early on a pathfinder mission, light up the target, fly back reload, fly back out, drop more bombs and get home before the heavy bombers had finished their mission.

    Mossies were reserved for the best pilots which would also have helped survival rates.

    These were guys in their early to mid 20s.

  21. Sounds like you are thinking of a Wellington Pcar, geodesic framework courtesy of Barnes-Wallis. Mosquito is the epitome of stressed skin monocoque construction, their excellent survival record down to sheer speed.

  22. About 125,000 aircrew flew over Europe, and 55,000 died.

    Typically- and it varied a bit though the War- one would sign up for two tours of duty, 35 missions on the first and 30 on the second. Everyone who did that was a volunteer.

    Thanks to the wonders of Excel, and a bit of trial and error (below), I make that a 0.9% chance of being killed on each mission. A very simplified calculation, of course, and there were wounded and prisoners as well.

    Howe many people, I wonder, would agree to do something even once that gave a 0.9% chance of dying?

    Hats off to them.

    A = Mission
    B = Alive before mission
    C = Alive after mission
    D = Dead

    A. . . . . B. . . . . . . . C . . . . . . . . . D
    1 . . . . 125,000 . . . . 123,875 . . . . 1,125
    2 . . . . 123,875 . . . . 122,760 . . . . 2,240
    3 . . . . 122,760 . . . . 121,655 . . . . 3,345
    4 . . . . 121,655 . . . . 120,560 . . . . 4,440
    5 . . . . 120,560 . . . . 119,475 . . . . 5,525
    6 . . . . 119,475 . . . . 118,400 . . . . 6,600
    7 . . . . 118,400 . . . . 117,334 . . . . 7,666
    8 . . . . 117,334 . . . . 116,278 . . . . 8,722
    9 . . . . 116,278 . . . . 115,232 . . . . 9,768
    10 . . . . 115,232 . . . . 114,195 . . . . 10,805
    11 . . . . 114,195 . . . . 113,167 . . . . 11,833
    12 . . . . 113,167 . . . . 112,149 . . . . 12,851
    13 . . . . 112,149 . . . . 111,139 . . . . 13,861
    14 . . . . 111,139 . . . . 110,139 . . . . 14,861
    15 . . . . 110,139 . . . . 109,148 . . . . 15,852
    16 . . . . 109,148 . . . . 108,165 . . . . 16,835
    17 . . . . 108,165 . . . . 107,192 . . . . 17,808
    18 . . . . 107,192 . . . . 106,227 . . . . 18,773
    19 . . . . 106,227 . . . . 105,271 . . . . 19,729
    20 . . . . 105,271 . . . . 104,324 . . . . 20,676
    21 . . . . 104,324 . . . . 103,385 . . . . 21,615
    22 . . . . 103,385 . . . . 102,454 . . . . 22,546
    23 . . . . 102,454 . . . . 101,532 . . . . 23,468
    24 . . . . 101,532 . . . . 100,618 . . . . 24,382
    25 . . . . 100,618 . . . . 99,713 . . . . 25,287
    26 . . . . 99,713 . . . . 98,815 . . . . 26,185
    27 . . . . 98,815 . . . . 97,926 . . . . 27,074
    28 . . . . 97,926 . . . . 97,045 . . . . 27,955
    29 . . . . 97,045 . . . . 96,171 . . . . 28,829
    30 . . . . 96,171 . . . . 95,306 . . . . 29,694
    31 . . . . 95,306 . . . . 94,448 . . . . 30,552
    32 . . . . 94,448 . . . . 93,598 . . . . 31,402
    33 . . . . 93,598 . . . . 92,756 . . . . 32,244
    34 . . . . 92,756 . . . . 91,921 . . . . 33,079
    35 . . . . 91,921 . . . . 91,094 . . . . 33,906
    END OF FIRST TOUR, START OF SECOND
    36 . . . . 91,094 . . . . 90,274 . . . . 34,726
    37 . . . . 90,274 . . . . 89,461 . . . . 35,539
    38 . . . . 89,461 . . . . 88,656 . . . . 36,344
    39 . . . . 88,656 . . . . 87,858 . . . . 37,142
    40 . . . . 87,858 . . . . 87,068 . . . . 37,932
    41 . . . . 87,068 . . . . 86,284 . . . . 38,716
    42 . . . . 86,284 . . . . 85,507 . . . . 39,493
    43 . . . . 85,507 . . . . 84,738 . . . . 40,262
    44 . . . . 84,738 . . . . 83,975 . . . . 41,025
    45 . . . . 83,975 . . . . 83,219 . . . . 41,781
    46 . . . . 83,219 . . . . 82,470 . . . . 42,530
    47 . . . . 82,470 . . . . 81,728 . . . . 43,272
    48 . . . . 81,728 . . . . 80,993 . . . . 44,007
    49 . . . . 80,993 . . . . 80,264 . . . . 44,736
    50 . . . . 80,264 . . . . 79,541 . . . . 45,459
    51 . . . . 79,541 . . . . 78,825 . . . . 46,175
    52 . . . . 78,825 . . . . 78,116 . . . . 46,884
    53 . . . . 78,116 . . . . 77,413 . . . . 47,587
    54 . . . . 77,413 . . . . 76,716 . . . . 48,284
    55 . . . . 76,716 . . . . 76,026 . . . . 48,974
    56 . . . . 76,026 . . . . 75,342 . . . . 49,658
    57 . . . . 75,342 . . . . 74,663 . . . . 50,337
    58 . . . . 74,663 . . . . 73,992 . . . . 51,008
    59 . . . . 73,992 . . . . 73,326 . . . . 51,674
    60 . . . . 73,326 . . . . 72,666 . . . . 52,334
    61 . . . . 72,666 . . . . 72,012 . . . . 52,988
    62 . . . . 72,012 . . . . 71,364 . . . . 53,636
    63 . . . . 71,364 . . . . 70,721 . . . . 54,279
    64 . . . . 70,721 . . . . 70,085 . . . . 54,915
    65 . . . . 70,085 . . . . 69,454 . . . . 55,546

  23. “There is no glorification of war in my memory (as some d*ckheads claim), merely remembrance of sacrifice and a life of someone from my family screwed up by the experience.”

    I can live with people not wearing a poppy, in the past few years I haven’t myself except for Remembrance Day because of what has started to become “a tyranny of the poppy”, with people wearing them ever earlier as a meaningless virtue signal. Its worse on TV where they get one stuck on as part of their make-up with no thought whatsoever as to what it means.

    What I can’t get my head round are those that claim it glorifies war. This is the most solemn service anyone is ever likely to attend, possible with the exception a child’s funeral. Grown men (including me) will openly cry at the thought of what they witnessed, lost friends and family or just the sight of broken men and women struggling to march past a memorial erected to the memory of those who died. Pictures of graves, containing those who died and could be identified, stretching as far as the eye can see will be shown. With monuments to those who couldn’t be identified or weren’t found.

    And they call that glorifying war.

    Glorifying war would be only seeing the fit and health marching down Whitehall to marshal music. Perhaps with tanks and other munitions proudly on display. Smiling politicians and generals with chests full of medals would take the salute and congratulate themselves on what powerful beasts they are.

    In that regime those who complain that wearing poppies and our Remembrance service is glorying war would be lucky if they haven’t been conscripted in to the military and spent 12 months on meagre rations just practising for that one parade.

  24. As I recall, the Mosquitoes’ wooden outer skin left less problematic holes than metal when struck by enemy fire.

  25. When you flew bombing missions also had an effect. By Spring 1944, the Luftwaffe was pretty much done.

    My father was a B-24 pilot, coming over late in the war. Early 1945. He said he never saw a German fighter. Lot’s of ($#*&^ flak, but no fighters.

    The end of the Luftwaffe was for the same reason as the end of Japanese air power. Not lack of planes. Not lack of fuel.

    No pilots. They got them all killed. You can put a warm body in a cockpit, but you can’t give them experience.

  26. My maternal grandfather was a navigator on Wellingtons and then Halifaxes from ’42 onwards, passing on a university place to join up. He survived and found himself in Transport Command after it ended until he was demobbed. He was on the 2nd flight in to Singapore IIRC. Some day I will find what mum has done with his logbook and read through it.

    (The other grandfather spent his war in Iraq. Apparently he described it to his wife as a shithole.)

  27. @Noel C, November 8, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Sounds like you are thinking of a Wellington Pcar, geodesic framework courtesy of Barnes-Wallis. Mosquito is the epitome of stressed skin monocoque

    Err, no I’m not. Mosquito had a wood frame and unstressed canvas skin

  28. @Bloke in North Dorset, November 8, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    What I can’t get my head round are those that claim it glorifies war. This is the most solemn service anyone is ever likely to attend, possible with the exception a child’s funeral. Grown men (including me) will openly cry at the thought of what they witnessed, lost friends and family or just the sight of broken men and women struggling to march past a memorial erected to the memory of those who died. Pictures of graves, containing those who died and could be identified, stretching as far as the eye can see will be shown. With monuments to those who couldn’t be identified or weren’t found.

    And they call that glorifying war.

    +1 Even Swedish Mrs Pcar sheds some tears. The solemn remembrance is overwhelming. Festival of Remembrance when the poppies float down equally so.

  29. Let’s put a name to one Stan Chamberlain 149 Sqdn lost over Germany 7/8 September 1941in Wellington X9705. 5 others lost with him. His only child, a son, was born after he died. Standing in front of 6 gravestones and especially holding the telegram received by Ellen is extraordinarily moving. Real real people. I wear a poppy not glorify but to remember. My FiL has lived with the loss his whole life.

  30. Pingback: On the subject of tomorrow | Tim Worstall

  31. The other grandfather spent his war in Iraq. Apparently he described it to his wife as a shithole.

    It hasn’t changed much, then.

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