AMERICAN COMMITTEE OF ENGINEERS IN LONDON
CONCERNING THE COMMITTEE REPORT ON “GERMANY’S IRON INDUSTRY AND THE WAR”.
F.W. Lanchester, M. Inst. C.E.
If the Iron supply of Germany is as dependant upon the Ironworks of the districts – Lorraine, Saar and Westphalia – as we have every reason to suppose and as stated in the main Report anything in the nature of an attack on these districts, whether from the air or otherwise, is certain to be countered by the enemy by every means in his power.
We have seen evidence of the actual importance which the German High Command attach to the Lorraine Iron Mines and Iron Works in the tremendous effort made in 1916 to drive back the French before Verdun; there appears to be no question to-day but that the Verdun offensive was based on an endeavour to increase the security of the (annexed) Lorraine Iron district. We have seen that the offensive in question followed the Secret Memorial addressed to the Imperial German Chancellor, a copy of which is given in Appendix E. page 39, of Mr. H.A. Titcomb’s Report. The vigour with which that offensive was pushed, and at such an enormous cost to the enemy, is adequately explained by its relation to the Lorraine Iron Mines and Iron Works; no alternative explanation of a convincing character has ever been offered.
It has already been stated that we must not look upon the bare bombing force calculated as necessary, on the present available experience, as in any sense adequate; in view of the vital character of the menace, the enemy will defend himself in the Lorraine districts to the last extremity. Under these conditions the force both of bombing aeroplanes and fighting aeroplanes for their defence (and for attack on enemy defending squadrons) may be expected to absorb the greater part of the aeronautical resources both of the Allies and concurrently those of the enemy; as the strength of the attack is increased, the strength of the defence will inevitably increase so long as such is in the power of the enemy. Thus, in an attack on the Lorraine Iron fields we have a means of nailing the enemy’s air resources definitely to one fixed point, and, if we are strong enough to crush him by weight of numbers and equipment. From this point of view a large scale and thoroughly prepared attack on the Lorraine Iron Works and Fields offers attractive prospects, quite apart from the question of its direct ultimate consequences. The district may be made into a veritable moloch for the enemy’s services where no guerrilla or elusive tactics will avail him. Beyond this, with the Lorraine district the pivot and centre of concentration of our air forces and those of the enemy, there would appear to be no doubt that intensified military operations in the area in question will follow as a matter of logic.
Intense bombing and air fighting behind the enemy lines would seriously hamper him in holding those lines. It would be easy for the powerful air forces locally at our disposal to interfere seriously, if not vitally with his transport and supplies without neglect of their other duties.
When the weather is unfavourable to long distance enterprises the squadrons normally so occupied could be assigned work of this character. Thus a time might well be anticipated when the holding of his lines and positions would become so weakened as to fall an easy prey to our military organisation of those of our Allies (which ever may be holding the positions vis-à-vis to those in question). If this anticipation should be realised the question of the Iron Mines and Works in Lorraine might turn out eventually to be the whole pivot point of the Allied strategy, for since the loss of the mine areas to the enemy, equally with their destruction, would be fatal to his capacity to carry on the war, he will need to throw division after division into the defence of the district in question, however difficult that defence – owing to air attack – may have become.
In brief, it would appear possible that by concentrating an attack, firstly from the air and later in the field, against the Lorraine district, all power of initiative may be finally taken out of the hands of the enemy and the future of the War be made to depend upon the attack and defence of the one particular area involved. It is worthy of remark on this point that part of the Lorraine Iron fields are virtually, though not actually, within a salient – St Mihiel – held by the enemy between Nancy and Verdun, and, from the point of view of field operations, the advantage, broadly speaking, certainly does not lie with the enemy.
In introducing the broad military aspect of attack on Lorraine apart from or additional to the wider strategical side of the question, rather than to lay down any dogmatic opinion on a really military subject. It is however, undoubtedly true that if you can attack an enemy at a point that is vital to him which at all costs he is bound to defend, so long as the attack be maintained (apart from its success or otherwise) the enemy initiative is gone and a plan of campaign is forced upon him which is not of his own choosing.
Not the least difficulty in connection with a concentrated bombing attack, such as proposed, is the question of Aerodromes. There is no doubt that we are getting generally to that critical point when the difficulty of creating and maintaining the necessary accommodation in the way of Aerodromes is becoming as important – and perhaps more crucial – than the question of manufacturing machines and providing personnel.
An Aerodrome that is overworked becomes a danger, not only as due to the risk of collisions in the air between machines leaving and machines alighting etc. but also as due to crashes on the ground itself, due to the obstruction caused by too many machines or too much “business”. This difficulty, already known to have arisen in a general way, is certain to be encountered to an accentuated degree when air attack on a large scale is concentrated in a circumscribed area. It can only be met by due preparation in advance. Beyond the general difficulties and dangers of congestion in the ordinary sense the danger from enemy counter raids is unquestionably greater when the number of aerodromes is scarcely sufficient for the duty in hand than would be the case were it possible to have, say, twice as many Aerodromes as necessary.
Beyond the above and as bearing on it, so far as my knowledge goes, the difference between an Aerodrome and a Flight Ground has not been sufficiently insisted upon and differentiated in the past. I should be inclined to define a Flight Ground as a prepared ground with bomb-proof underground magazines for ammunition, bombs, petrol, stores etc., but not provided with sheds or repair facilities. Such grounds should be of ample area and should constitute jumping off points at which raiding or fighting machines based on Aerodromes possibly some 50 or 100 miles in the rear should rendezvous for supplies and final instructions. I believe that it would be fatal to attempt to establish fully equipped Aerodromes sufficiently near to the lines to deal with a bombing problem such as that under consideration. The base Aerodromes with their sheds, repair staffs, etc., should be anything from 100 to 150 miles in the rear, out of any easy range of enemy counter raids. From the present point of view it is a fact to be reckoned with that the country in which the necessary Flight Grounds would need to be established is of a mountainous or at least hilly character, and consequently the Aerodrome and Flight Ground question will undoubtedly be a difficulty.
The historic Flight Ground and Aerodrome of Chalons is itself almost too near to the enemy lines to be considered safe as an Aerodrome I have not the advantage of knowing how the ground is used at the present time, but if it were made a base of operations for the purpose of attacking the Lorraine Iron fields, nothing is more sure than that it in turn would be bombed out of existence by counter raids on the part of the enemy, it being only some 25 to 30 miles distant from his lines.
Granted, however, that a system of base Aerodromes and Local Flight Grounds be adopted, sites for the base Aerodromes are not likely to prove a serious difficulty, inasmuch as there may be as far back as Paris, Melun, Troyes or even beyond; thus the choice of suitable sites is a wide one.
The selection of Flight Grounds, on the other hand, within easy range of the objective will be a question of serious difficulty. They require to be sufficiently numerous in order that the enemy may not know from what direction attack may be expected, and so that if one be put out of action by hostile bombing, there will still remain many others to carry on. The danger of locating a main depot, with repair sheds and stores containing such valuable adjuncts as spare engines, essential fittings etc., within easy reach of hostile raids has been well exemplified by the disaster which overtook the Dunkirk Aerodrome some six months ago.
The importance of providing Flight Grounds within easy reach of the objective is great, but its importance must not be over-rated. It can be measured in terms of bomb capacity. Thus, from Verdun itself as the crow flies, to the principal iron works in (annexed) Lorraine is a matter of some 35 miles, so that a 50 mile flight – out and home 100 miles – would suffice, if the point of departure were situated within some ten or fifteen miles of the enemy lines. An additional 50 miles however – making the out and home flight 200 miles – would provide a far larger choice of site for the Flight Ground, at the expense of say 150-lbs weight of bomb capacity. Evidently the matter is one of a balance of advantages. In my opinion, however, in view of the need of finding Flight Grounds numerically adequate it is not possible to regard the iron works district of (annexed) Lorraine as less than 100 flight (out-and-home 200 miles) as a basis on which to specify the capacity of the machine.
Generally speaking for the purpose of bombing squadrons (except where the longest possible distances are to be reached) it is of little advantage to chose an Aerodrome or Flight Ground too close to the enemy’s lines, since a bombing machine loaded makes altitude but slowly, and some 40 or 50 miles flight is desirable before coming within range of enemy artillery or near the home of his fighting squadrons.
TYPES OF MACHINE DESIRABLE.
In the present Memorandum I do not intend to say much on the question of types of machine to be adopted, this being a matter for the Department of Aircraft Production of the Air Ministry and the Manufacturing resources of the country. There are, however, one or two suggestions I am prepared to offer in a tentative spirit.
It is agreed I believe as very desirable to carry out a large proportion of the work by daylight. The risks are admittedly greater, but night work is rarely satisfactory where the objective is definite and the need for accurately locating the vulnerable point is paramount. Under these conditions it is I think, important to avoid an entire uniformity in the machines adopted, since once the identity of a machine is definitely ascertained and recognised by the enemy, its range can be determined with approximate exactitude from its wing span and other known dimensions which may happen to present itself favourably to an enemy battery. If two or three different types of machine can be used, it ought, in my opinion, to be seriously considered whether such machines cannot be made sufficiently alike for their difference to be indistinguishable; as for example if of the same design but differing only in point of size and span. In this way the range of every flight or squadron and in some case of every individual machine would have to be determined by one of the well-known triangulation methods before the enemy can range his guns on it satisfactorily, involving a delay which might well make all the difference between the enemy anti-aircraft fire being effective and deadly, and otherwise.
Beyond the above, it is quite evident that squadrons intended for the raiding of the Lorraine districts would be quite unsuited for raiding the Westphalia district where the distance to be flown in some 200 or 250 miles in the least – out and home 400 to 500 miles. There would be nothing however to prevent bombing squadrons designed for attacking Westphalian Iron Works from being employed against the Lorraine fields when the climatic circumstances were against their intended work. The longer distance machines also would of course be of value for surprise visits to other less distant objectives and so it would be desirable in preparing any programme to increase the proportion of long distance machines over what might be theoretically necessary, and beyond what would be considered merely prudent from the point of view of the greater losses to be anticipated in distant raiding.
We must not lose sight of the fact when we consider raiding Westphalia, as apart from raiding Lorraine, that the distance to be covered is at least as great and possibly 50 miles greater than that at present covered by the Gothas when raiding London. When we bear in mind that we to-day have come to regard London as reasonably safe from daylight attack, and that the actual flying over British territory only amounts to, say , 70 miles, we must be sanguine indeed to think that we can successfully raid Westphalia from the present front by daylight when the whole distance of 200 miles and more will have to be flown over hostile territory, a large amount of which is definitely in the War zone. unless our aircraft, both as to men and machines, is immeasurably superior to that of the enemy we must be prepared to admit that the Westphalian venture will only be possible, without great loss, by night.
It is worthy of note that in connection with the Lorraine Iron Works, the proximity to Verdun is so great that on clear nights it will be possible to locate positions with approximate accuracy by appropriate guiding lights, which of course need only be exhibited at stated pre-arranged times. The impression, however, of those conversant with the nature of the target presented by an Iron Works is that even in the face of considerable losses it would pay to attack by day where the distance is short.
In connection with the proposals under discussion it may be remarked that in view of the close relationship between the iron fields of Lorraine, where the valuable are “minette” is produced and the iron works in other parts of Germany which are dependant upon the supply of same, the incidental bombing of railways and railway junctions etc in the districts in question, apart from the attack on shaft head works, might go far to disorganise the enemy’s supplies and the production of pig-iron.
In dwelling almost entirely in the present Memorandum on the subject of bombing iron works it is not my intention for a moment to belittle the suggestion put forward in the main Report as to the bombing of specialised factories and works of other kinds. The main point of the present Memorandum is to establish as a fact that of the two great objectives striking at the root of the German pig-iron industry, first and foremost comes Iron Works, and second the shaft head works of the mines, but I think it may be fully counted that the diversion of resources for the destruction of some of the specialised German Factories, such as for example, the Akkumulator Factory at Hagen (page 44 of the main Report) situated some few miles south of the Westphalian Coal fields, or as has been suggested elsewhere (not in the present Report) the Bosch Magneto Works, might be singled out for destruction. An attendant advantage of studying and selecting certain subsidiary objectives of this character will be that it will complicate the problem of defence on the part of the enemy, inasmuch as an attack apparently directed to some main objective, for example to the Westphalian Works, might prove at the last minute to be actually an attack on the said Akkumulator Factory at Hagen. The uncertainty thus introduced as to the objective would be no less valuable as increasing the difficulties of the defence than as regards the direct results that might be achieved.
It is always to be borne in mind that whatever the fundamental advantages or disadvantages may be, an attack on a factory producing a finished product, is of more immediate effect in hampering the enemy than an attack on raw material. Consequently, however important the latter may be, as exemplified in the main Report and as insisted on in the present Memorandum, the attack on specialised works, especially where the product of same is unique and of an essential character, is not a matter to be neglected.
I feel by no means certain that full justice has been done, in the forgoing estimate, to the power of the enemy to interfere with our proposed air offensive. I cannot but believe that owing to the vital importance to the enemy of the interests that it is proposed to attack, he will concentrate anti-aircraft artillery of every calibre in unprecedented numbers in defence, and beyond this, that ultimately every fighting squadron he can put up, will be put up to interfere with our operations. Under these conditions two facts assert themselves;
Firstly, we must look for many failures to get home, that is to say, attacks beaten off. We know that when the enemy attempts to raid London, every night, many of his attacks are reported as beaten off. Admittedly the measures we have taken to protect London are considerable, but we have no reason to suppose that the measures Germany will take to defend her iron works will be in any sense less, they will probably, if we give her time to act, be greater. We must therefore allow for the possibility of raids being beaten off – the question is what percentage is necessary? If we begin to attack with insufficient forces and insufficient preparation, the enemy resistance will grow pari passu with the intensity of our successive attacks and so we may find the defence growing greater with our increasing force, rather than less. Our true policy should clearly be to do nothing to stimulate enemy resistance until we are fully prepared for a powerful if not decisive stroke.
Supposing that Germany had never attacked London by air to this day, but had expanded her resources, which have been so far frittered away, in preparing a thorough going large scale offensive; no one can pretend that our defences in such a case would have been in any way effective, and London would have been more or less at the mercy of enemy squadrons. We can see the mistake the enemy has made in developing our powers of resistance by small scale attacks; I think it is important that in the venture under discussion we do not imitate the enemy in this respect. Already there have been one or two half-hearted raids of the kind in question. I am strongly of the opinion that until we are ready to do the job thoroughly such raids should be discontinued. They can only serve to develop the powers of the enemy resistance.
But, in spite of everything we can do, the time may come when the successful raid may prove to be the exception and the raid beaten off become the rule, and it would seem to me prudent to provide a programme at least twice as big as that proposed in the earlier part of this Memorandum on this account alone, together with the necessary base Aerodromes and subsidiary Aerodromes or Flight Grounds for handling the numbers in question.
But there is another point of view that appears to suggest that the numbers on the basis of bare necessity are an under estimate. It had been suggested on data – assumed data it is true but not improbable – that the losses will amount to some 40 raiding machines per week. Now we must remember that this will mean a loss of personnel, if not as great, at least of the same order of magnitude, and that it is possible to demand of any body of men a rate of mortality above a certain figure without detriment to efficiency. It is quite true that in great emergency men may fight even to the last man and face nearly certain death, but when it comes to a service in which the conditions are such as would give each man an average of four weeks life, it will be admitted that the country would be demanding more than is reasonable or conducive to obtaining effective service.
It would seem therefore, that from the point of view of personnel alone the numbers will have to be increased very considerably above the bare minimum calculated, and I am inclined to think that a service such as that suggested could not be properly maintained, if it is necessary that it should be permanently maintained, on less than a personnel of some 1,000 or 2,000 pilots, probably involving a total of some 15,000 or 20,000 men.
It is of course unnecessary that operations should be delayed until there is a full establishment of the magnitude above indicated I believe in fact that a start could be made effectively on the basis of the figures given in my earlier Memorandum, but as above pointed out, whatever the figure is that is agreed upon as necessary to strike with full force at the outset, that figure should be reached by due preparation and on no account should any half-hearted blow be permitted which would only serve to acquaint the enemy with what was in contemplation.
I wish to say once and for all, that my own figures have been arrived at on a knowledge which is very imperfect in comparison with that at the disposal of those on whom the responsibility of calculations of this kind would actually rest. The experience on which the actual figures have been based has never been published, and is I believe only available to the military and naval authorities and the Air Ministry. I do not therefore put my figures forward as more than an indication and expression of personal opinion on such general knowledge as I possess. I also express no opinion as to whether the command of the bombing squadrons should be in the hands of the military or naval authorities, or whether it should be organised directly under the Air Ministry; the only comment that I see any reason to make on this point is, that the operation of attacking the enemy’s sources of raw material is not one with regard to which either the military of naval authorities are supposed to have special information or knowledge. As far as I know neither in the profession of soldiering or the sea is there anything in the curriculum which ensures a man knowing a blast furnace from a church steeple, or an iron works from a goods yard. In these circumstances, if the work is to be undertaken effectively, those carrying it out will require to be specially instructed and trained, and whether or not it is done by one of the older services, or whether direct by a specially appointed air force, appears to be a matter of military convenience and expediency.
It would appear to me that there should be no more difficulty in carrying out the work in question by a special air force directly under the Air Ministry than in carrying it out by a naval air force under the Admiralty, except that such Force does not yet exist and would presumably take time to organise; but, as against either the one or the other, the argument that it would be better placed in the hands of the military authorities as being in the military zone would have equal, and not inconsiderable, weight. The point on which I insist in the present paragraph is that the work is of a special character for which men thoroughly acquainted with the anatomy of an Iron Works or factory will require to be engaged, and the actual pilots entrusted with the work will require to go through a short course of special instruction. On questions of high policy or Service responsibility I purposely express no opinion.
(Sgd) F.W. Lanchester.
Copy No 5.