What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

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Rob Stuart
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What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Rob Stuart » 11 Nov 2014 13:52

During WW2 the UK produced around 16,000 four-engined bombers - about 2400 Stirlings, 6200 Halifaxes and 7400 Lancasters. (430 of the Lancasters were actually built in Canada.) The first Sterling entered service late in 1940, the first Halifax in November 1940, and the first Lancaster early in 1942. If the same industrial effort had been devoted to producing single- and twin-engined aircraft, would it be reasonable to suppose that something like 30,000 extra Hurricanes, Spitfires, Typhoons, Blenheims, Wellingtons, Beauforts, Beaufighters and other aircraft could probably have been produced?

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Takao
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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Takao » 11 Nov 2014 14:55

Your going to need to train 14,000 or so extra pilots.

Also, at least early on, the Stirling and Halifax, for the most part used the Bristol Hercules engine, which IIRC, was only used in the Beaufighter.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by phylo_roadking » 11 Nov 2014 15:43

...and you're also damning the RAF to only being able to reach the Ruhr reliably and regularly, with an occasional trip with reduced bombload as far as Berlin. No mid war-on "Heavy Force".

Also - why produce extra fighters...when there was a limit to the number of aircraft that Fighter Commands' "Dowding System" could handle at any one time over the UK - 740-760 IIRC.

As for simply producing something like 30,000 extra Hurricanes, Spitfires, Typhoons, Blenheims, Wellingtons, Beauforts, Beaufighters and other aircraft - they were produced at the volume they were and at the speed they were - because THAT was the speed at which the UK's aircraft industry could produce them. We produced what we did - especially in the "emergency production period" after Dunkirk - because that was the limit of what we could.

Why do you think Avro went to Canada in the first place??? For extra production capacity...
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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Gooner1 » 11 Nov 2014 17:41

Rob Stuart wrote:During WW2 the UK produced around 16,000 four-engined bombers - about 2400 Stirlings, 6200 Halifaxes and 7400 Lancasters. (430 of the Lancasters were actually built in Canada.) The first Sterling entered service late in 1940, the first Halifax in November 1940, and the first Lancaster early in 1942. If the same industrial effort had been devoted to producing single- and twin-engined aircraft, would it be reasonable to suppose that something like 30,000 extra Hurricanes, Spitfires, Typhoons, Blenheims, Wellingtons, Beauforts, Beaufighters and other aircraft could probably have been produced?
In terms of manhours to build an aircraft the January 1940 estimates were 76 and 75 thousand for the Halifax and Stirling respectively, 38k for the Wellington, 15.2k for the Spitfire and 10.3k for the Hurricane.

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/U ... ion-4.html
Footnote 89

Total manhours involved probably came down with increased productivity but I guess the proportions would have stayed roughly the same so for the same number of hours worked on those four-engined bomber you could get about two Wellingtons, five Spitfires, or seven Hurricanes.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Rob Stuart » 12 Nov 2014 00:41

Since I’ve sparked some interest I think I should explain the reason for my question.

Proponents and defenders of the RAF’s startegic bombing campaign point out that, apart from the direct damage caused by the bombing, there were a number of indirect effects, such as the increased German production of AA guns and fighters, at the expense of AT guns and bombers, and this true. But I’ve not seen anyone study he opposite side of the coin, i.e., the opportunities lost to the Allies by their diversion of such large resources to the production of a huge number of four-engined bombers. For example, could Malaya have been provided with 500 modern aircraft by December 1941 and held against the Japanese if the British had not produced any four-engined bombers? Could Malta and the Middle East have been provided with so many aircraft by November 1941 that Operation Crusader might have kicked the Axis entirely out of Africa?

I’m not actually saying that the British should not have produced any heavy bombers, but I’m wondering if a significantly lower heavy bomber output, say 50%, might not have been wiser.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by phylo_roadking » 12 Nov 2014 00:49

Rob, look at who was producing what, and in what different factories. UK aircraft factories were working at full steam - some had to subcontract assembly/construction, or had the government find them the spare capacity elsewhere - Blackburn using spare capacity to produce Swordfish for Fairey, for instance. The government was VERY rigorous about what aircraft companies were doing....or more correctly NOT doing; they stepped in at Short Bros. for instance and nationalised the firm when it wasn't producing Sunderlands fast enough.

And they weren't just churning out combat aircraft; they were turning out an equivalent number of training aircraft of all types, and transport aircraft.

As for the issue of 500 more modern aircraft turning the tide in Malaya...this brings in ANOTHER issue - could the RAF in Malaya have supported and maintained 500 modern aircraft??? Could they have physically accomodated them...did they have the early warning and ground control network to use them to their best...and could they have physically maintained and serviced them?

Then there's the issue of not just aircrew for them there...but also enough RAF technical staff and grades to service and support 500 new aircraft. That is, after all, over 25 squadrons'-worth!
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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Rob Stuart » 12 Nov 2014 03:01

phylo_roadking wrote:Rob, look at who was producing what, and in what different factories. UK aircraft factories were working at full steam - some had to subcontract assembly/construction, or had the government find them the spare capacity elsewhere - Blackburn using spare capacity to produce Swordfish for Fairey, for instance. The government was VERY rigorous about what aircraft companies were doing....or more correctly NOT doing; they stepped in at Short Bros. for instance and nationalised the firm when it wasn't producing Sunderlands fast enough.

And they weren't just churning out combat aircraft; they were turning out an equivalent number of training aircraft of all types, and transport aircraft.
I'm sorry, everything you say here is true, but I don't understand your point. How does any of this prevent the UK producing fewer heavy bombers and more single- and twin-engine combat aircraft?

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Rob Stuart » 12 Nov 2014 03:22

phylo_roadking wrote: As for the issue of 500 more modern aircraft turning the tide in Malaya...this brings in ANOTHER issue - could the RAF in Malaya have supported and maintained 500 modern aircraft??? Could they have physically accomodated them...did they have the early warning and ground control network to use them to their best...and could they have physically maintained and serviced them?

Then there's the issue of not just aircrew for them there...but also enough RAF technical staff and grades to service and support 500 new aircraft. That is, after all, over 25 squadrons'-worth!
These are fair questions. I think I can answer some of them:

-a heavy bomber squadron had a larger ground staff than, for example, a Hurricane or Spitfire squadron. I would guess that a lot of, if not all of, the ground staff needed to maintain 500 aircraft in Malaya would have been freed up by not forming the heavy bomber squadrons which actually absorbed them.

-they had accommodation for the 500 aircraft. Numerous airfields were built in Malaya before the war, when it was decided that the RAF should have the lead in defending Malaya.

-I believe that there was decent radar coverage and effective ground control for Singapore island but not for the entire peninsula.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by phylo_roadking » 12 Nov 2014 14:22

-a heavy bomber squadron had a larger ground staff than, for example, a Hurricane or Spitfire squadron. I would guess that a lot of, if not all of, the ground staff needed to maintain 500 aircraft in Malaya would have been freed up by not forming the heavy bomber squadrons which actually absorbed them.
I'm not sure that's the case regarding a Bomb er Command squadron requiring a larger number of personnel. Not according to James. What spiked their numbers was adding extra aircraft to a squadron's assignment mid-war.
-they had accommodation for the 500 aircraft. Numerous airfields were built in Malaya before the war, when it was decided that the RAF should have the lead in defending Malaya.
Yes, a lot of satellite and diverosionary fields were developed....or rather cut out of the vegetation. Question is - were they all-year round useable ;)
I believe that there was decent radar coverage and effective ground control for Singapore island but not for the entire peninsula.
If that's the case - all it means was that there was effective point defence for Singapore. What the entire country of Malaya needs is a UK-style radar fence and overland tracking ability. Without it the RAF is reduced to point defence, standing patrols etc.; it's exhausting to man and aeroplane, and reduces the time in contact with any potential enemy and thus the chance of attriting him. In effect - any aircraft based outside SIngapore are open to attack.
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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Onslow » 21 Nov 2014 12:03

There's a PhD thesis in economics from Sydney uni (IIRC) that attempts to count the TOTAL cost of the bomber campaign. As it points out, there were vast hidden subsidies in the financial cost of the heavies, but just as important was the cost of the airfields. Not only did the heavies require vast and extremely expensive concrete airfields, but they were built on productive farmland which is still out of action today as the runways are too hard to remove.

If I recall correctly, the cost of the AC themselves was a much smaller fraction of the total cost of the campaign than was the case with other types of aircraft. Fighters and twins, for example, could operate from grass fields.

The thesis decided, IIRC, that the cost of the infrastructure in the UK for the US and RAF heavies was a significant problem for the overall British economy, even after the war.

So the bare sums where 1 Lanc = 7 Spits doesn't come close to a true assessment of the cost. Others have also noted that there is a tendency for people to under-rate the cost of aircraft compared to other forms of equipment, such as ships.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by phylo_roadking » 21 Nov 2014 16:31

Onslow - actually, the majority of Bomber Command fields were still grass by the end of WWII...and the vast majority still were by the middle years of the war certainly. In some cases their aprons and hardstandings had been improved to concrete or tarmac...but the actual flightline was grass. Scampton, for example, home of the Dambusters, took years to bring into service because of it being so muddy. Attempts to make it serviceable were abandoned twice!

EDIT: the beginning of surfacing Bomber Command runways may date from around the time of the first stretching of the Lancaster's bombload from 8,000lbs to 14,400 lbs. prior to that, the 8,000lbs specified for the lanc was no really no greater than that of the Heavy Forces's first generation of bombloads for the Wellington, Manchester, Stirling etc.. It would also have been viewed in some quarters as very restricting on Bomber Command; a grass flightline meant that multiple aircraft could take off at once...for instance, the three bombers that flew together as a group in the Bomber Stream once that tactic was developed...but a metalled runway restricted aircraft to taking off one at a time and formating after takeoff.

Can I recomment John James' The Paladins to you? He spends a chapter discussing the costs of developing and running airfields...

A lot of WWII Bomber Command fields were given metalled runways immediately after the war...when they were also being extended for jet aircraft - and don't forget that the USAAF in the UK opted to surface their runways from day one.

This has been discussed on AHF recently...but metalled runways, either concrete or tarmac, are NOT hard to remove; all that you do is cut the metalled surface into small squares with a pneumantic drill...and use it as fencing!!! Two large USAAF bases in Northern Ireland were removed in this way by the farmers they were returned to after the war...

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 23 Nov 2014 01:51

Rob Stuart wrote:During WW2 the UK produced around 16,000 four-engined bombers - about 2400 Stirlings, 6200 Halifaxes and 7400 Lancasters. (430 of the Lancasters were actually built in Canada.) The first Sterling entered service late in 1940, the first Halifax in November 1940, and the first Lancaster early in 1942. If the same industrial effort had been devoted to producing single- and twin-engined aircraft, would it be reasonable to suppose that something like 30,000 extra Hurricanes, Spitfires, Typhoons, Blenheims, Wellingtons, Beauforts, Beaufighters and other aircraft could probably have been produced?
I'd supose the question of what types were actually built, and how they were used is important here. The number "30,000" is tossed up, how do the campaigns in Tunisia, Italy, or Normandy fare with 30,000 extra aircraft to use for tactical air support during those two years?

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by maltesefalcon » 23 Nov 2014 15:09

Compare the Lancaster to a twin-engined contemporary like a B25:

The Lanc weighs twice as much empty-makes sense. But it can carry 5 times the bomb load and go 1000 miles further doing so. So it's more efficient. Also bear in mind (on a large scale) the RAF was not really capable of doing anything but night area bombing until fairly late in the war. Small bombers were better suited to daylight precision attacks on smaller targets.

Look at another example. The Mosquito was a wonderful aircraft, but it was best suited to fast, low-level hit and run or Pathfinding ops. Kind of like the Commandos of the air. However, expanding them into a 1000 bomber stream would negate most of the plane's advantages of speed and manouverability.

Finally, look at the result. A four-engine force could threaten targets well inside the Reich, not just the fringe and the occupied territories. Post war analysis reveal that the actual bombing campaign caused far less damage than the Allied planners had hoped. But the Allies may be forgiven for their misinterpretation. Why? Because the Germans made heroic efforts to prevent the bombers from reaching the targets. A million men on the AA guns. Plus the erosion of the Luftwaffe's bomber force in favour of single engine fighters and ground attack aircraft.

That alone was worth the effort as it left the Luftwaffe in no position to threaten the D-Day buildup.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Rob Stuart » 23 Nov 2014 15:52

phylo_roadking wrote:
-a heavy bomber squadron had a larger ground staff than, for example, a Hurricane or Spitfire squadron. I would guess that a lot of, if not all of, the ground staff needed to maintain 500 aircraft in Malaya would have been freed up by not forming the heavy bomber squadrons which actually absorbed them.
I'm not sure that's the case regarding a Bomb er Command squadron requiring a larger number of personnel. Not according to James. What spiked their numbers was adding extra aircraft to a squadron's assignment mid-war.
I don't know who James is, but I can't believe that a squadron with say 16 Hurricanes would need as many ground crew as one with 16 four-engine bombers. Surely the bomber unit would need something like four times as many engine fitters, for example, since it had four times as many engines. It would also need a lot more armourers, to look after all the bombs, people to take care of the bomb sights, of which the fighter unit had none, etc.

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Re: What if the UK had produced no four-engined bombers?

Post by Rob Stuart » 23 Nov 2014 16:03

phylo_roadking wrote:
-they had accommodation for the 500 aircraft. Numerous airfields were built in Malaya before the war, when it was decided that the RAF should have the lead in defending Malaya.
Yes, a lot of satellite and diverosionary fields were developed....or rather cut out of the vegetation. Question is - were they all-year round useable ;)
Actually the question is - could they be made usable all-year round? You can't assume that Y would not change if X was changed. In other words, if a commitment to send 500 aircraft to Malaya was made, the authorities on the ground there would obviously give a high priority than they actually did to ensuring that their airfields were fully operational. The C-in-Cs in Malaya actually asked London for 556 aircraft, so presumably they thought they had, or could build, enough bases for 556 aircraft.

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