May 26, 1992.
Senator Jack Marshall, C.D.,
Senate Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs,
The Senate of Canada,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4.
Dear Senator Marshall,
Re: film, Death by Moonlight—Bomber Command
As a person who took part in 49 bombing raids over Europe during World War II, I watched this film with great interest. I was navigator in Wing Commander “Crackers” Cracknel’s crew, in RAF squadrons 35 and 7, being, like many other Canadian aircrew, seconded to an RAF squadron.
Except for the Dresden raid in which my crew took part (and for which our squadron commander opened the briefing by saying,“Well boys we’ve got a juicy one tonight”, going on to describe how the city was full of refugees), I had not questioned whether our targets were military or military-related installations, until in the 1970’s I became aware that there had been controversy in Britain about the Dresden raid. I then read C.P. Snow’s little book. Science and Government, which shows the debate between Churchill’s science adviser, Lord Cherwell, and Sir Henry Tizard, who introduced radar into RAF Fighter Command just in time to win the Battle of Britain, about how much bombing would be needed to destroy the Germans’ morale. I then read the volumes on the Strategic Air Offensive in the official British history of the war, and examined the British and American Strategic Bombing surveys. The latter is especially informative-a study carried out on the ground with a staff of 1,000 under Paul Nitze and John Kenneth Galbraith. It shows essentially that area bombing did not reduce German war production until after the invasion of Normandy. Bomber Harris and Lord Cherwell had both predicted that it would cause a German surrender “in a few months”, starting in 1942. Bomber Harris made such predictions several times, right up to early 1945.
More recently, I read the autobiography of Lord Solly Zuckerman, Science Adviser to the British Department of Defence under Lord Mountbatten. The title of the first volume, which includes his experience during World War II, is From Apes to Warlords. In 1943 and 44, as science adviser to Air Marshall Tedder, he studied the effects of bombing on the ground in North Africa, in order to help plan the invasions of Sicily and southern Italy. He then [was] asked by Tedder to apply what he had learned to planning the role to be requested of Bomber Command in the preparation for the invasion of Normandy. Essentially, his on-the ground researches, successfully applied to the Sicilian and southern Italy invasion, had shown that bombing “nodal points in the railway system” was effective, while area bombing of cities was ineffective, in shutting down both troop movements and productivity. As the film says, Harris resisted the Normandy Invasion request, as he had done to a similar much smaller scale request for the Dieppe raid two years earlier. However, in the case of Normandy, it took Eisenhower and then Roosevelt himself to insist, and Harris then carried out fully for two months the role required of him for the invasion. Then he returned his forces to area bombing.
Recently, I saw an old Canadian friend from 7 Squadron for the first time in 40 years. He brought up the Dresden raid and told me that his crew had engine trouble that night and had been stood down. He said that he had been so upset by the squadron commander’s “juicy one” comment that he had walked around all night. But he, like me, had not questioned that our other raids were against military installations. My own crew had been disgusted and ashamed by our commander’s comment.
Against this background, I was very pleased that so accurate a film as Death by Moonlight had been produced. It honours and truthfully shows the courage of the crews (of course we were afraid every time we took off, but that is no reflection on our courage), but it also faces up to the failure of the strategic bombing campaign to achieve its goal. We now know, and some people recognized it at the time, but they did not have the ear of Churchill in the way that Harris and Lord Cherwell did, that a different use of the bombers could have been effective. We now know that area bombing is incapable of breaking the morale of a people, and in fact it has the opposite effect. As Lord Zuckerman points out, three times as many bombs were dropped on little Viet Nam as the whole of what the British, American, and German air forces dropped in Europe in World War II, and yet we know who won the Viet Nam War.
I found this truth hard to accept. It is very painful to recognize that the deaths of some of my close friends, and many of the risks to which I and my crew were exposed, were in the pursuit of a wrong policy. Obviously some veterans will never be able to accept the pain of that. But I think it is terribly important, especially for the young in our country, to be exposed to the fact that these things can happen, and that they should see public debate of such issues pursued openly.
In summary, the film seems to me to be basically true to the experiences of the crews. (One very minor false impression is that we went out night after night with no break in between. This did happen occasionally, but usually there was a day or two, and sometimes weeks, in between, at least at the time when I was on operations.) It is also true to Harris’s character, though a couple of times the expression on his face looked more contemptuous than he probably was. He was an enormously powerful man. As the official British History shows, he made a point of establishing a direct relationship with Churchill (doing an end run around the RAF Air Marshalls to whom he was supposed to report). And he was very stubborn in refusing to consider research on bombing done on the ground, in contrast to aerial photographs which showed the destruction of buildings but not of machinery, gun emplacements and the heart of factories. I’m told that Blohm and Voss, now in partnership with a Canadian company, report that they produced a new submarine in Hamburg, of all places, every week of the war—in spite of the firestorm and the repeated bombing raids. Harris just refused to look at research that could have indicated such facts which did not fit his beliefs—a very human failing, but with terrible consequences in this case.
Lastly, I have heard that your committee is going to hold hearings beginning on June 22, on a request that the three films in this series be banned from distribution.
I am astonished that any veterans should associate themselves with such a request. What on earth did we fight for? Did we fight for the suppression of controversy? I am also, frankly, surprised that your subcommittee will even entertain such a proposal. Is the Senate in the controversy-suppression business?
I would welcome an opportunity to appear before your committee on these matters.
C. G. Gifford, DFC
3370 Prescott St.,
N.S. B3K 4Y4.
(902) 455 3852.
cc Ms Joan Pennefather, National Film Board
Mr. Gerard Veilleux, President,
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.