Butt Report
The Butt Report was a report prepared during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 which revealed the widespread failure of bombers to deliver their payloads to the correct target.

At the start of the war, RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 had no real means of determining the success of its operations. Crews would return with only their word as to the amount of damage caused or even if they had bombed the correct target. The Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

 demanded that a method of verifying these claims was developed and by 1941 cameras mounted under bombers, triggered by the bomb release, were being fitted.

Report contents

The report was initiated by Lord Cherwell, a friend of Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 and chief scientific advisor to the Cabinet. David Bensusan-Butt
David Bensusan-Butt
David Miles Bensusan-Butt was an English economist who spent much of his career in Australia. Known as David, he published his work as D. M...

, a civil servant in the War Cabinet Secretariat and an assistant of Cherwell, was given the task of assessing 633 target photos and comparing them with crews' claims.

The results, first circulated on 18 August 1941, were a shock to many, though not necessarily to those within the RAF who were already largely aware of the failure of crews to navigate to, identify, and bomb the targets.
Postwar studies confirmed Butt's assessment showing that forty-nine percent of RAF Bomber Command's bombs dropped between May 1940 and May 1941 fell in open country. As Butt did not include those aircraft that did not bomb because of equipment failure, enemy action, weather or failed to find the target area only about five per cent of bombers setting out bombed within five miles of their target.

Contemporary debate, Dehousing and Singleton Report

The truth about the failure of Bomber Command shook everyone. Senior RAF commanders argued that the Butt's statistics were faulty and commissioned another report. This report was delivered by the Directorate of Bombing Operations on 22 September 1941 and, extrapolating from an analysis of the bomb damage inflicted on British cities, calculated that the RAF could destroy the forty-three German towns with a population of more than 100,000 with a force of 4,000 bombers. The Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, argued that with such a force RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 could win the war in six months. Not all were convinced and when Churchill expressed his doubts, the Air Staff retrenched and said that even if it did not knock Germany out of the war, it would weaken them sufficiently to allow British armed forces back in to Europe. With this compromise between the armed services, Bomber Command was allowed to keep its planned allocation of materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

. This did not stop those outside the Chiefs of Staff questioning the strategic bombing policy.

A particularly damning speech had been delivered in the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 by the Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, Professor A. V. Hill—the noted research scientist and previously a member of the committee that had sponsored research into radar. His speech pointed out that:
In response to the concerns raised by the Butt report, Cherwell produced his dehousing paper (first circulated on 30 March 1942), which proposed that by area bombing, instead of precision bombing
Precision bombing
Precision bombing is bombing of a small target with extreme accuracy, to limit side-effect damage. An example would be destroying a single building in a built up area causing minimal damage to the surroundings...

, the deficiencies of the RAF could be mitigated. The Secretary of State for Air
Secretary of State for Air
The Secretary of State for Air was a cabinet level British position. The person holding this position was in charge of the Air Ministry. It was created on 10 January 1919 to manage the Royal Air Force...

, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Sir Charles Portal were delighted by the paper as it offered support to them in their battle to save the strategic bomber offensive, which had been under attack from others in the high command who thought that the resources put into bomber command were damaging the other branches of the armed services, with little to show for it

On reading the dehousing paper, Professor Patrick Blackett
Patrick Blackett, Baron Blackett
Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Baron Blackett OM CH FRS was an English experimental physicist known for his work on cloud chambers, cosmic rays, and paleomagnetism. He also made a major contribution in World War II advising on military strategy and developing Operational Research...

, the chief scientist to the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, said that the paper's estimate of what could be achieved was 600% too high. The principal advocate for the reduction of RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

 in favour of other options was Sir Henry Tizard
Henry Tizard
Sir Henry Thomas Tizard FRS was an English chemist and inventor and past Rector of Imperial College....

. He argued that the only benefit to strategic bombing was that it tied up enemy resources defending Germany but that those forces could be tied up with a far smaller bombing offensive. He wrote to Cherwell on 15 April querying the facts in the paper and warning that the War Cabinet could reach the wrong decision if they based their decision on the paper. His criticism of the paper was that on past experience only 7,000 bombers would be delivered not the 10,000 in the paper and since only 25% of the bombs were likely to land on target the total dropped would be no more than 50,000 so the strategy would not work with the resources available.

Mr. Justice Singleton, a High Court Judge, was asked by the Cabinet to look into the competing points of view. In his report delivered on 20 May 1942, he concluded that:
In the end, thanks in part to the dehousing paper, it was this view which prevailed but C. P. Snow
C. P. Snow
Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow of the City of Leicester CBE was an English physicist and novelist who also served in several important positions with the UK government...

 (later Lord Snow) wrote that the debate became quite vitriolic with Tizard being called a defeatist.
It was while this debate about bombing was raging inside the British military establishment that the area bombing directive
Area bombing directive
The Area Bombing Directive was a directive from the wartime British Government's Air Ministry to the Royal Air Force which ordered RAF bombers to attack the German industrial workforce and the morale of the German populace through bombing German cities and their civilian inhabitants.- Background...

 of 14 February 1942 was issued and eight days later that Arthur "Bomber" Harris took up the post of Air Officer Commanding
Air Officer Commanding
Air Officer Commanding is a title given in the air forces of Commonwealth nations to an air officer who holds a command appointment. Thus, an air vice marshal might be the AOC 38 Group...

-in-Chief (AOC-in-C) of Bomber Command.


As the war progressed, RAF Bomber Command improved its methods. Electronic navigational instruments like GEE
GEE (navigation)
Gee was the code name given to a radio navigation system used by the Royal Air Force during World War II.Different sources record the name as GEE or Gee. The naming supposedly comes from "Grid", so the lower case form is more correct, and is the form used in Drippy's publications. See Drippy 1946....

, Oboe
Oboe (navigation)
Oboe was a British aerial blind bombing targeting system in World War II, based on radio transponder technology. Oboe accurately measured the distance to an aircraft, and gave the pilot guidance on whether or not they were flying along a pre-selected circular route. The route was only 35 yards...

, G-H
G-H (navigation)
Gee-H, or sometimes G-H, was a radio navigation system developed by Britain during World War II to aid RAF Bomber Command. Its official name was AMES Type 100...

 and the ground mapping radar codenamed H2S
H2S radar
H2S was the first airborne, ground scanning radar system. It was developed in Britain in World War II for the Royal Air Force and was used in various RAF bomber aircraft from 1943 to the 1990s. It was designed to identify targets on the ground for night and all-weather bombing...

 all helped to improve bombing accuracy. Improvement in tactics like the development of the Pathfinder Force, created against Harris's wishes, also improved bombing accuracy. By 1945, bomber groups such as No. 5 Group RAF
No. 5 Group RAF
No. 5 Group was a Royal Air Force bomber group of the Second World War, led during the latter part by AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane.-History:The Group was formed on 1 September 1937 with headquarters at RAF Mildenhall....

 could sector bomb in a fan-shaped pattern that maximized the coverage and effect of incendiary bombs. To create this effect, a bomber's run was timed and calculated to fan out from a bomb aiming point as was done in the Bombing of Dresden in February 1945, when the aiming point was the Ostragehege
Ostragehege is a multi-use sports venue in Dresden, Germany. Key buildings of the venue include the Heinz-Steyer-Stadion and the ice hockey stadium of the Dresdner Eislöwen . The stadium was the primary aiming point for No. 5 Group RAF squadron during the Dresden bombings of February 1945...

soccer stadium, easily identifiable with H2S.

Further reading

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