The Air Offensive Against Germany

A Review Of The New Book By Allan A. Michie
Aircraft Performance Drawings For Air News By Pictograph

Speaking with the tone of a small boy who admits a misdeed in hopes of a pat on the head, the author declares in his foreword that the book was written in ten days. This admission is unnecessary. The most casual reader will, after a few chapters, assume that not only the writing but the research was completed on the same ten-day Clipper flight from London to Lisbon to Liberia, and thence across the Atlantic to Pleasantville, NY, home of Michie's employer, Readers Digest. Allan Michie's own statements have been picked at random as the best denouncement of his factual carelessness in attempting to prove a particular, but not very important, point.

On page 26, Michie declares, "The largest weight of bombs dropped by the Germans on any one night over Britain was the slightly less than 450 tons dropped on London on the night of April 6-17, 1941." Three pages further on, he remarks, }"On the night of May 10-11, 1942, the Nazis concentrated 300 planes against London in what is generally conceded to be the worst raid any British city suffered." The inconsistency is interesting, but hardly informative. Convinced that heavy bomb loading can, single-handed, win the war, Michie makes mathematical theories into military axioms with amusing candor. On Page 75, he remarks, "We know that 300 tons of bombs can completely destroy one square mile and damage by blast proportionately. We know that 1,000 bombers, carrying about 3,000 tons of bombs, can demolish from eight to ten square miles of a city." His first proposition is correct in theory but the extension of his first figure is not even correct on paper because of the variable which economists describe as "law of diminishing returns." In practice, neither of his dogmas are proved by actual combat experience, as evidenced by his own report on Page 27, "The small German city of Osnabruck, about one-fiftieth the size of London, crumpled under the weight of more than 450 tons of bombs." The answer is, of course, that when hundreds of bombs are dropped simultaneously in the same area, many of them drop on already demolished targets. In other words, to use a colloquial, even a bomb can't get blood out of a turnip.

Michie declares, "With airdromes scattered about three miles apart over the face of England and, Scotland, the British could send out two or three thousand planes in one night — if they had the planes." Actually, they could send out ten times that many planes with Michie's three-mile gaps between fields. But Michie ignores, with one sentence, the problems of wind direction, landing speeds, level surface, and natural flying obstacles which have stumped aeronautical engineers for a generation. In other words, Piper Cubs could operate safely from fields three miles apart, Lancasters couldn't — even if many parts of England were not hilly or marshy and thus hardly adaptable to airdrome construction. With the same reasoning, the author dismisses the gasoline problem saying "For one 1,000-plane raid on the Ruhr, from 300,000 to 500,000 gallons are required. Even if we could stage twelve 1,000-plane raids each month, the present convoy system easily fulfills these requirements." Unfortunately, arrival of a tanker does not put the gasoline into the tanks of a thousand planes. Collective fueling of 1,000 planes is a matter of hours, not seconds, as Michie apparently believes.

Preceding statements are all included in Michie's chapter titled "Bombs Can Do It." His subsequent chapter on "The Planes" is even more entertaining. On Page 88, the author declares, "Regardless of the tremendous publicity given to the Fortresses and Liberators since they arrived in Britain, the truth is that we do not yet have in operation a plane comparable to any of the three British heavies." Evidently, Michie's statement was based on performance figures which he presented on the preceding and succeeding pages. These figures are particularly interesting in the light of Michie's foreword statement that his performance data were derived from personal observation or British periodicals because "performance figures in British periodicals are more accurate than those contained in American."

Michie states that the Short Stirling can carry up to 18,000 pounds of bombs, has a maximum speed of 280 mph, range of 2,050 miles at 227 mph. The inference is, of course, that such performance figures are operational, except for the "on short trips" qualification of the 18,000 pound load. Official RAF figures give maximum load of 14,000 pounds and maximum speed is 280 mph without bombs. And normal bomb load is 9,000 pounds. Of course, only quibblers will argue a matter of several tons.

Describing the Halifax II, Michie states that "it has a performance about equal to that of the Stirling. Its bomb load on short range is 15,000 pounds." The same British Air Ministry source quoted above gives the Halifax a top speed comparable to that of the Stirling but calls special attention to a cruising speed of 145-165 mph — and bombers seldom operate at maximum speed. Moreover, the maximum bomb load is given as 11,000 pounds — another discrepancy of a mere two tons — and a normal load of 8,600 pounds.

Michie's description of the Lancaster, admittedly the finest night bomber ever sent aloft, is closer to fact but still misses the mark by an appreciable amount. He lists a "normal maximum load of 18,000 pounds and it can climb to around 30,000 feet, which is about equal to the normal operating ceiling of the Fortress." It is hardly necessary for an aviation magazine to point out the obvious fact that "normal" and "maximum" loads are two different things — not one figure as Mr Michie prefers to believe. Quoting our RAF "bible" once more, the Lancaster's normal load is given as 10,000 pounds, normal overload as 12,000 pounds, maximum load as 18,000 pounds. The latter figure is qualified with the statement "this is seldom attempted." Michie continues in his Lancaster description by stating, "it can reach a speed of just under 300 mph." Actual top speed is exactly 300 mph but cruising speed, the tactical factor, is 190-235 mph. Range with 10,000 pounds is 1,000 miles at 230 mph but the range drops to 600 miles at the same speed when 12,000 pound bomb load is carried. This contrasts sharply with Michie's declaration, "it has a range of 3,000 miles."

On the American side which cannot, according to Michie, present a single plane in a class with any of these three ships, the figures are equally interesting. Michie comments, "The Boeing B-17F, powered with four Cyclone motors, developing a total of 3,600 hp (as against the more than 5,000 hp of the Lancaster's engines, has a maximum speed of 250 mph at 25,000 feet, and has a range of 2,000 miles at 225 mph at 30,000 feet. The bomb load is limited to 5,000 pounds." British official intelligence figures again disagree with Michie. Each of the four engines develops 1,200 hp which totals 4,800 hp by most arithmetical reasoning — not Michie's 3,600 hp, although battle-scarred B-17s frequently do return to base on three engines which would give Michie's output. With maximum load — 6,000 pounds, not Michie's 5,000 pounds — the Fortress has a range of 2,230 miles at 211 mph. Maximum speed is 317 mph, about 25% more than Michie allows. And the Fortress has a service ceiling of 36,200 feet — roughly two miles higher than that of the Lancaster.

With so many flaws in his research, Michie quite naturally built his own picture of the Consolidated B-24 also. For example, he insists, "The top speed of the B-24D is about 280 mph at 25,000 feet, and it has a range of 2,500 miles at 220 mph at 30,000 feet. The maximum bomb load is 6,000 pounds as compared with the Lancaster's 18,000 pounds." In the first place, Michie has again inferred that his figures apply to the latest model to reach the fighting scene. The current Liberator has a top speed of 316 mph at 25,000 feet, a service ceiling of 34,000 feet, and carries a maximum bomb load of 9,040 pounds. And the Liberators now going into service so far exceed this performance that Michie's statements are little more than very bad guesses.

All of the preceding inaccuracies have been culled from fewer than a dozen pages of "The Air Offensive Against Germany," which might better have been titled "The Rover Boy at the British Air Ministry" or "The Voice of Peter Masefield." When one considers that Michie has 154 similar pages in his book, the total of misinformation is appalling.

This book review article was originally published in the May, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 4, no 5, pp 38-40.
The article is illustrates with 10 performance charts and a silhouette guide to some 24 planes.
Charts are credited to Pictograph.