The Butt Report

August 18, 1941

Ordered by Lord Cherwell- Chief Scientific Advisor to the Churchill Cabinet, the report, released August 18, 1941 was a scathing indictment of Bomber Command’s results. By the summer of 1941 Bomber Command was able to send 100+ bombers over occupied Europe on a regular basis. Good results reported could mean a cluster of bombs miles away from objectives and too often, the nightly target reported desultory British activity not realizing the RAF had chosen it for attention. To say the least, the report caused a storm of criticism and disbelief.

An analysis of night photographs taken during night bombing in June and July points to the following conclusions.


1. Of those aircraft recorded as attacking their target, only one in three got within five miles.

2. Over the French ports, the proportion was two in three; over Germany as a whole, the proportion was one in four; over the Ruhr, it was only one in ten.

3. In the Full Moon, the proportion was two in five; in the new moon it was only one in fifteen.

4. In the absence of haze, the proportion is over one half, whereas over thick haze it is only one in fifteen.

6. All these figures relate only to aircraft recorded as attacking the target; the proportion of the total sorties which reached within five miles is less by one third. Thus, for example, of the total sorties only one in five get within five miles of the target, i.e. within the 75 square miles surrounding the target.**

“Mr. Butt had been directed to carry out his independent investigation by Lord Cherwell, the Prime Minister’s personal scientific adviser and the most powerful eminence grise in Downing Street. Cherwell had been doubtful for some time about the results being achieved by British bombing, and Mr. Butt’s conclusions exceeded his worst fears. On any given night of operations, it was already understood that around a third of all aircraft returned without claiming to have attacked their primary target. So Mr. Butt analyzed only the target photographs and reports relating to the remaining two-thirds of crews who had allegedly bombed their targets, during the preceding two months of June and July 1941. He reported that of these, only one-third had come within five miles of the aiming point. Against the Ruhr this proportion fell to one-tenth. At a moment when perceptive airmen already foresaw an end of moonlit bombing operations as German night-fighter activity intensified, Mr. Butt found that moonlight was indispensable to the crews of Bomber Command: two crews in five came within five miles of their target on full-moon nights;”

However, the report stimulated solutions that were to justify staggering amounts of money resources and men allocated to Bomber command – roughly one third of the entire British war effort. Key was Arthur (Bomber) Harris’ appointment as Head of Bomber Command in February 1942 along with the Handley Page Halifax four engined bomber and the advent of the marvelous Avro Lancaster, arguably the best heavy bomber of the war. By the end of 1942, a new front evolved over the night skies of the Reich further straining the German economy.

Solutions: The most fundamental – a switch to area bombing versus precision bombing effective February 14, 1942.

Arthur Harris assumed command of Bomber Command in February 1942

The Pathfinders – Target Marker Squadrons

Oboe – aerial blind targeting system – quite accurate.

Gee – radio navigation system

H2S – airborne ground scanning radar,

Parramatta – H2S guided flares to mark target area

Wanganui – used when target was obscured by cloud cover or other

conditions. Markers were dropped using H2S or Oboe to for improved accuracy.

Newhaven – illumination flares dropped above target to guide pathdinders in to mark

Window – radio countermeasure to fog enenmy radar screens

When all the above were implemented: the larger raids of the war. 500-1000bombers could be confident they would reach the target and in decent conditions hit it.

Taking an example of 100 airmen:

• 55 killed on operations or died as result of wounds

• three injured (in varying levels of severity) on operations or active service

• 12 taken prisoner of war (some wounded)

• two shot down and evaded capture

• 27 survived a tour of operations[28]

Longmate, Norman (1983). The Bombers: The RAF offensive against Germany 1939-1945.


Hastings, Max, Bomber Command, P.70

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: