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John G. Sayers

A January, 1940 letter that recently came to light describes some serious deficiencies in Bomber Command during the early years of the Second War, and hints at others. The letter should never have been written - or sent - because it discloses many secrets. Military historians and researchers will be vitally interested in its contents.

The writer's disclosures begin:
I am on the staff of a group which controls operational squadrons of bombers. We've had a large share in most of the bomber activities about which you've read in the papers. We've had our victories and our casualties. The aircraft of this group are over Germany three times a week. In this terrible weather the crews are having a pretty bad time. Cold. Oxygen failures at great heights. Oxygen masks frozen to faces. Wireless receivers and transmitters frozen solid. And so I could go on.

So, we learn that the bombers were neither designed nor equipped for the high altitude flying that was necessary to escape German flak and fighters. One can only pity the poor men that had to cope with this lack of foresight.

The next paragraph discloses even more:
My work, as signals officer, concerns everything that has to do with communications - whether it is wireless from ground to aircraft in the air; wireless from ground station to ground station; the secret teleprinter organization over most of England; direction finding organization etc. and codes and ciphers etc, etc.

A "secret teleprinter organization over most of England"? At this rate, it won't remain secret for very long! Other deficiencies are described:
But if anything goes wrong - boy, oh boy it's a case of knowing what to do. For instance, the other night a pilot lost himself returning from Germany. He pushed out an S.O.S. by wireless and as I was on duty, though the pilot should have known what to do, I had to tell him by wireless where and how to get bearings. I brought him home O.K. I should like to tell you lots more, but I daren't.

Pilots who can't find their bearings? This suggests that pilots and navigators lacked adequate training, and that there might have been fewer planes lost if pilots had been trained properly. The phrase "…but I daren't" puts this letter in context. The writer ("Will") knows that his disclosures are wrong, but his awareness is tempered by his wanting to tell the recipient, Miss Hazel Robbins, what he is doing. He ignores the widespread warning that "Loose lips sink ships".

This letter would have been of considerable strategic interest to the enemy if it had fallen into the wrong hands, but is highly informative for today's researcher of the Second War.



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