I rise today to speak about the Bomber Command Commemoration Service, which I was fortunate enough to attend last Saturday. The moving service was carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force at the Torrens Parade Ground, where I was honoured to lay a wreath on behalf of Premier Marshall and the Government of South Australia.
The Royal Air Force fleet of bombers from 1936 to 1968 was controlled by Bomber Command and throughout the Second World War it was responsible for leading raids against crucial targets held by German forces. Bomber Command’s campaign was instrumental in turning the tide against German forces in Europe and the eventual Allied victory.
The numbers of men who served under Bomber Command during the wartime period was astonishing, even more so were the losses inflicted. Sadly over 55,000 men were killed in action, from across the Commonwealth. Fighting alongside British forces were Canadians, New Zealanders, men from occupied countries and of course, Australians. It would have been a difficult life for a crew member on an RAF bomber. Life expectancy was as short as two weeks for new recruits. With the threat of flak cannons, enemy fighters, machine gun fire, aircraft failure and even daylight, danger was ever-present. Consisting of 30 missions, each crew member was tasked with being part of an operational tour. Those who could, would perform multiple tours. The chances of someone surviving their first tour were only 50-50. In the end, 44% of the estimated 125,000 aircrew, would pay the ultimate sacrifice.
Within Bomber Command, the RAAF contingent comprised of eight units, with approximately 10,000 men serving. These Australians would perform valiantly in the skies above war-torn Europe. In particular, 460 Squadron would fly the most raids of any RAAF unit. It also held many operational records within Bomber Command and consistently high aircraft serviceability rates. In doing so, however they would pay a high price, losing 589 Australians and 1000 men in total. Of the 10,000 Australians who served, only two thirds survived. The RAAF lost more than most during World War 2. Only 1% of all Australian forces served in Bomber Command, however they account for more than 10% of all Australian war dead.
These brave men gave there lives during some notable battles. Following the attacks of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, many Brits viewed the bomber as being the only capable tool in pushing back and going on the offensive. Bombers were used on raids, such as the famous ‘Dam Busters’ raid around the Ruhr Valley. They would carry out other major efforts, which were crucial for success in Europe. They would conduct raids against supply lines, factories and German defensive posts. This included the feared V-Rocket’s landing sites, which would continue to instil fear over London until the dying days of the war.
During to lead up to D-Day and the landings themselves, bombers were responsible for blocking the movement of German forces on the ground. From attacks on railway lines and other infrastructure, they aided in preventing Erwin Rommel’s forces in France from mounting a concerted effort to repel the attacks. In the end Bomber Command would be responsible for dropping over 1 million tons of bombs for the war effort.
I wish to thank the RAAF for their exemplary service and pay my respects to all those who served in Bomber Command, including the many South Australians who fought gallantly. Without the brave servicemen of Bomber Command, the war against fascism in Europe could have had a far different outcome. Lest we Forget.