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[Giff Gifford to Sen. Jack Marshall, July 25, 1992]

July 25, 1992.

Senator Jack Marshall, C.D.,
Chairman, Senate Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs,
Room 804 VB,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4.

Dear Senator Marshall,

Re: Fall Subcommittee Hearings

I request the opportunity to present views to your subcommittee at your hearings in the fall, on “Bomber Command: Death by Moonlight”.

War Service:

RCAF Navigator on RAF squadrons 35 and 7 of the Pathfinder Force of Bomber Command.
Took part in 49 bombing raids over Europe, in Lancasters.
Final rank: Acting Squadron Leader. Awarded DFC.

Background to request:

My crew was ashamed of the Dresden raid as soon as our squadron commander briefed us, before take off. We had been proud to look down on flames sweeping across Hamburg, but felt differently seeing the same thing at Dresden. This was because it was described at briefing as “a juicy one, full of refugees from the Russian advances to the east.” But we forgot about it as we went on to attack other cities on the nights and days that followed.

Dimly aware of controversy about Dresden in the 1960’s, my feelings about the raid re-surfaced, leading me to read the official British history of the Strategic Air Offensive, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, C.P. Snow’s book “Science and Government” about the conflict among science advisers about area bombing which preceded the policy decision. More recently I have read Lord Solly Zuckerman’s autobiography, which describes the struggle to persuade Bomber Command that destroying railway systems was a more efficient contribution to the war than destroying cities, the Bomber Command Diaries, and other sources. These readings plus my reflections about our experience caused me reluctantly to change my view of our city-destroying policy.

In 1985, I went to Dresden, and met civilians who had survived the firestorm as children, and three men who had been 16-year-old anti-aircraft gunners against us.

I attended your hearings on June 25 and 26, and have read letters and statements of Cliff Chadderton, Murray Peden, and others. I have discussed it with several other Bomber Command “types”.

Your selection of witnesses for June 25 and 26 was not balanced, giving more than three times as much time to historians and veterans who condemn these films as to historians and veterans who support them. In the conviction that you are committed to fair play, I request that you include me among your Fall witnesses to help redress that balance.

Testimony to be presented:

I basically support this film for reasons given below.

1. Were aircrew told the truth about their mission?
Except for Dresden, we were always told that our targets were militarily important installations. The aim of destroying working class homes was never mentioned. Contradictions, like the fact that, for example, the Cathedral coincided with the aiming point on two of the three trips our crew made to Cologne, did not occur to me until after the war. That we were considered accurate if our bombs landed within three miles of the aiming point, i.e. in a circle six miles across, showed that, except in rare cities like Essen and exclusively military targets like Heligoland, we would be hitting more civilian features than military ones. We were never told of the Feb. 14/15 1942 directives.
I was shocked to read in the Official British History that Sir. Archibald Sinclair, Secretary for Air in the British War Cabinet, lied to parliament and the public about the bombing objectives. Questions had been raised in the House of Lords, and in response he concealed the existence of the Feb. 1942 directive to attack the living areas of German factory workers. He justified this concealment in a letter to Sir Charles Portal on the ground that public discussion of the morality of the bombing policy might affect morale of the aircrews.
2. Sir Arthur Harris:
The film is basically accurate about Bomber Harris. Long before the war, when the British Colonial Office was using the RAF to bomb unruly colonial populations, he had shown that he was not sqeamish about killing and maiming women and children in peasant villages. He said repeatedly to Churchill and others, from 1942 until March 1945, that bombing cities would cause a German surrender “within a few months”, and this was a major motive in his conduct of Bomber Command. It was an unrealistic belief. He consistently persuaded himself that bombing cities could achieve more than was possible, and pressed on to try to prove that belief.
Of course it achieved something—it did tie up a million German personnel, thousands of guns, etc. At the same time, in spite of the firestorm and repeated other bombings, Blohm and Voss, for example, were able to produce a new submarine almost every week of the war in Hamburg. The Strategic Bombing Survey showed that overall the bombing had less effect on German industry than was believed at the time. It depressed the German people, but did not cause them to refuse to work in the war factories. The Bomber Command Diaries, recently published, show that on many raids, large proportions of the bombs missed their targets. Harris may have had no choice early in the war, but when evidence was available from the results of bombing in North Africa and Sicily that a change of policy would be more effective, Harris was not interested in considering that evidence. He had to be forced to change to the railway bombing campaign by Roosevelt backing up Eisenhower. Of course Eisenhower sent him a “thank-you letter” afterwards. Any polite general would do that, no matter what struggles had taken place to get conformity to the policy beforehand. Harris was carrying out an assigned policy, but he was more than a mere cog in a machine, he was an active and aggressive advocate of that policy, and a stubborn defender of it in the bureaucratic infighting over policy when others, like Eisenhower and Air Chief Marshal Tedder, wanted to change the assigned policy. He was a skilled bureaucratic manipulator, as shown soon after he became head of Bomber Command, when he “did an end run” around his superiors, Portal and Tedder and the Imperial General Staff, to establish a direct relationship with Churchill which he could play on in promoting his own policy.
Churchill, however, said later, “In the days when we were fighting alone, we answered the question, ‘How are you going to win the war?’ by saying ‘We will shatter Germany by bombing.’ Since then the enormous injuries inflicted on the German Army and manpower by the Russians and the accession of the manpower and munitions of the U.S. have rendered other possibilities open.”
It is regrettable that the film left out the fact that once Roosevelt and Eisenhower had forced Harris to change Bomber Command’s policy, he carried out the new policy vigourously for several months. But this omission is trivial compared to the large issue of the efficiency of the main bombing policy, which he pursued under orders (as the film said) from February 1942, and which he defended stubbornly in the bureaucratic struggles when his superiors wanted him to change that policy. It is valid to ask whether, if he had changed in 1943 to the more efficient policy, would not the German forces have been brought to their knees and the war ended earlier, and numbers of his own aircrews have been saved?
3. Is the film fair to the aircrews?
The film gives an honourable and accurate picture of what aircrew were up against. The losses were terrible right up to the middle of 1944, and after that they were still not negligible. For example, 214 squadron, in which one of my friends served, went for one nine month stretch without a single crew finishing a tour. (This friend saw the film on CBC and told me he thought it was fine.) The film strengthened my own pride in how we faced up to what we were commanded to do. I do not understand how the P.O.W. Association, for example, could see the film as portraying the aircrew as sheep and monsters. I want my four children and nine grandchildren to see the film. The errors in it are trivial compared to the main realities.
I have puzzled over why I, and other veterans like me, have had a largely positive reaction to the film, while many others have felt hurt by it. One central reason for this difference is expressed by the P.O.W. Association when it says “it is incumbent upon the C.B.C. to present DEATH BY MOONLIGHT from the perspective of the actual time…” This seems to me to be very wrong. As I know from my own experience, it is uncomfortable to change our feelings about what we were ordered to do from those we had at the time. But it is important that Bomber Command be debated in the light of information that has emerged since that time, and in the light of calmer reflection on the meaning of what we were doing. Otherwise we will not learn from the motives and actions that were submerged in the heat of war.
A second difference is that their submission says “…free speech must be TRUE SPEECH…” But how do we find the truth except through debate and the presentation of new truth to replace old. As the old hymn says, “New truth makes ancient good uncouth.”
I agree with your witness, the historian from the Department of National Defence, who pointed out that the Peloponnesian War is still being debated 2,400 years after it happened; and that the same will be true of World War II. He said, rightly, that truth does not stay fixed, but changes and develops. He said policies described in the film were controversial at the time and they will be controversial far into the future. The important thing is to get the elements of the controversy expressed and discussed.

Questions. I wish to ask the Subcommittee following this testimony:

  1. If your objective is to arrive at a balanced judgment, why were your questions on June 25/26, (except for a couple each by Senators Neiman and Doyle) as loaded with condemnation of the films as was your selection of witnesses?
  2. Why, in your questions and observations on the afternoon of June 25 and throughout June 26, did you never refer to the comments the historian from the Department of National Defence made on the morning of the 25th, and only to those of witnesses who were hostile to the films?
  3. Senator Neiman emphasized (twice, I believe), that your goal is not to censor these films. What is your goal? You said it is “to get at the truth”. This would obviously require a well qualified, well balanced, independent research team, rather than six individuals who hold their positions through the patronage of Conservative prime ministers, and who therefore have a weak claim to independence and objectivity. The holding of the hearings and your way of conducting them so far is harassment of the film makers and publishers. It seems you wish to teach them a lesson.
  4. Most importantly, your are conducting these hearings as an arm of the state. You have used the argument that these films have been paid for by government as justification for your actions.

Communist governments say, “We pay for all culture, therefore we have a right to censor all cultural activities.” You say, “We have a right to harass media activity paid for by the state.” What place has this communistic state behaviour in Canadian society, and why have you chosen to adopt it?

These are serious questions on which, as a veteran and a taxpayer, I will appreciate hearing your comments after giving my own observations on the film.

I look forward to hearing from you about my request.

Respectfully yours,

Cuthbert G. Gifford, DFC.
3370 Prescott St.,
N.S. B3K 4Y4.
(902) 455 3852.