Smeed and I agreed that Bomber Command could substantially reduce losses by ripping out two gun turrets, with all their associated hardware, from each bomber and reducing each crew from seven to five. The gun turrets were costly in aerodynamic drag as well as in weight. The turretless bombers would have flown 50 miles an hour faster and would have spent much less time over Germany. The evidence that experience did not reduce losses confirmed our opinion that the turrets were useless. The turrets did not save bombers, because the gunners rarely saw the fighters that killed them. But our proposal to rip out the turrets went against the official mythology of the gallant gunners defending their crewmates. Dickins never had the courage to push the issue seriously in his conversations with Harris. If he had, Harris might even have listened, and thousands of crewmen might have been saved.
The part of his job that Smeed enjoyed most was interviewing evaders. Evaders were crew members who had survived being shot down over German-occupied countries and made their way back to England. About 1 percent of all those shot down came back. Each week, Smeed would go to London and interview one or two of them. Sometimes he would take me along. We were not supposed to ask them questions about how they got back, but they would sometimes tell us amazing stories anyway. We were supposed to ask them questions about how they were shot down. But they had very little information to give us about that. Most of them said they never saw a fighter and had no warning of an attack. There was just a sudden burst of cannon fire, and the aircraft fell apart around them. Again, we missed an essential clue that might have led us to Schräge Musik.
On November 18, 1943, Sir Arthur Harris started the Battle of Berlin. This was his last chance to prove the proposition that strategic bombing could win wars. He announced that the Battle of Berlin would knock Germany out of the War. In November 1943, Harris’s bomber force was finally ready to do what it was designed to do: smash Hitler’s empire by demolishing Berlin. The Battle of Berlin started with a success, like the first attack on Hamburg on July 24. We attacked Berlin with 444 bombers, and only 9 were lost. Our losses were small, not because of WINDOW, but because of clever tactics. Two bomber forces were out that night, one going to Berlin and one to Mannheim. The German controllers were confused and sent most of the fighters to Mannheim.
After that first attempt on Berlin, Sir Arthur ordered 15 more heavy attacks, expecting to destroy that city as thoroughly as he had destroyed Hamburg. All through the winter of 1943 and ‘44, the bombers hammered away at Berlin. The weather that winter was worse than usual, covering the city with cloud for weeks on end. Our photoreconnaissance planes could bring back no pictures to show how poorly we were doing. As the attacks went on, the German defenses grew stronger, our losses heavier, and the “scatter” of the bombs worse. We never raised a firestorm in Berlin. On March 24, in the last of the 16 attacks, we lost 72 out of 791 bombers, a loss rate of 9 percent, and Sir Arthur admitted defeat. The battle cost us 492 bombers with more than 3,000 aircrew. For all that, industrial production in Berlin continued to increase, and the operations of government were never seriously disrupted.