There were two main reasons why Germany won the Battle of Berlin. First, the city is more modern and less dense than Hamburg, spread out over an area as large as London with only half of London’s population; so it did not burn well. Second, the repeated attacks along the same routes allowed the German fighters to find the bomber stream earlier and kill bombers more efficiently.
A week after the final attack on Berlin, we suffered an even more crushing defeat. We attacked Nuremberg with 795 bombers and lost 94, a loss rate of almost 12 percent. It was then clear to everybody that such losses were unsustainable. Sir Arthur reluctantly abandoned his dream of winning the War by himself. Bomber Command stopped flying so deep into Germany and spent the summer of 1944 giving tactical support to the Allied armies that were, by then, invading France.
The history of the 20th century has repeatedly shown that strategic bombing by itself does not win wars. If Britain had decided in 1936 to put its main effort into building ships instead of bombers, the invasion of France might have been possible in 1943 instead of 1944, and the war in Europe might have ended in 1944 instead of 1945. But in 1943, we had the bombers, and we did not have the ships, and the problem was to do the best we could with what we had.
One of our group of young students at the ORS was Sebastian Pease, known to his friends as Bas. He had joined the ORS only six months before I had, but by the time I got there, he already knew his way around and was at home in that alien world. He was the only one of us who was actually doing what we were all supposed to be doing: helping to win the War. The rest of us were sitting at Command Headquarters, depressed and miserable because our losses of aircraft and aircrew were tremendous and we were unable to do much to help. The Command did not like it when civilians wandered around operational squadrons collecting information, so we were mostly confined to our gloomy offices at the headquarters. But Bas succeeded in breaking out. He spent most of his time with the squadrons and came back to headquarters only occasionally. Fifty years later, when he was visiting Princeton (where I spent most of my life, working as a professor of physics), he told me what he had been doing.
Bas was able to escape from Command Headquarters because he was the expert in charge of a precise navigation system called G-H. Only a small number of bombers were fitted with G-H, because it required two-way communication with ground stations. These bombers belonged to two special squadrons, 218 Squadron being one of them. The G-H bombers were Stirlings, slow and ponderous machines that were due to be replaced by the smaller and more agile Lancasters. They did not take part in mass-bombing operations with the rest of the Command but did small, precise operations on their own with very low losses. Bas spent a lot of time at 218 Squadron and made sure that the G-H crews knew how to use their equipment to bomb accurately. He had “a good war,” as we used to say in those days. The rest of us were having a bad war.