Naval, military and air operations

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Naval, military and air operations

The Notebooks recount the naval, military and air operations as they happened. These include: the number of sorties from Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Commands, the numbers of Allied and enemy planes and aircrew lost, the damage to towns in the UK and the shipping losses through attacks on the convoys, particularly in the Atlantic. 

Numbers of sorties from Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Commands

Bomber 700 night. 70 day. Lost 41, 821 tons 264 mines. Cologne Kiel Hamburg

W.M.(42)56, 4 May 1942


Damage to towns in the UK

enemy attack. Exeter & Bath. Neither have AA defence. Prob. Germans selecting undefended targets

W.M.(42)53, 27 April 1942

 Attack on Canterbury . . . new type of IB oil bomb. Cathedral library & walls damaged . . .22 killed: 50 injured

W.M.(42)70, 1 June 1942


Enquiry into Bethnal Green tube deaths
On the night of 3/4 March 1943, 170-180 people were killed at Bethnal Green tube station when two or three people fell down the steps in the dark and others then fell on top of them.  There was pressure for a public inquiry. The government insisted on a private inquiry; however, they did say that, subject to security considerations, they would publish the conclusions. 

The War Cabinet's view was that an oral statement should be made rather than publishing the conclusions. The points which would be included were that there would be modifications to existing arrangements which would stop any further incidents of this kind and that there was no evidence that the disaster was due to Jewish or Fascist elements amongst the people in the shelter.


Two aspects  -  physical & psychological.  The more we stress the second, the greater the security risk….
Agreed to publish findings so far as security allowed...
...I can't use this Rpt. to protect Govt.


Against giving such limelight to this incident.
Flaunting weakest feature.
What notice taken of all who died in air attack.
Moreover we said earlier "no panic":  this makes it clear there was panic & it was part cause:  & this we are with-holding.


170 people killed:  shook the public:  had to hold enquiry:  agitation v. its being private:  resisted tht, saying Rpt. wd. be published:  will be told now that we've something to hide…


But you are concealing the truth – panic.


Make it clear that panic was not due to Jews and/or Fascists.

W.M.(43)48th Meeting held on 5 April 1943


Shipping losses
The Cabinet discussed, on 25 June 1942, the shipping losses on the convoy routes, which were critical at this stage.  The losses were mainly through the success of the U-Boats, the number of which was steadily being increased.  Within 13 German ports there were 271 U-Boats in the process of being built or being fitted out and it was expected that by March 1943 the number would have risen to 500.  The losses of escort vessels and destroyers had been very heavy in the first half of 1942, with 30 destroyers alone being sunk.  It was necessary therefore to increase the number of ships being built (many of them in the United States), and the Cabinet discussed the size, speed and tonnage of the ships.  They also discussed what and how the U-Boats could be destroyed, as this was crucial if supplies were to get through.

Convoy to Murmansk in—only 8 arrived; 1 sunk y'day close in: 15 turned back . . . Actual [shipping] loss this week is about 150,000

W.M.(42)50, 20 April 1942


TORCH landings
The Cabinet discussed in August 1942 whether de Gaulle should be involved in the planning for TORCH (as the Allied invasion of North Africa was code-named).  They agreed that no steps should be taken to associate de Gaulle with the planning of operations in metropolitan France but that he should be involved in hypothetical plans only.  They also agreed that the UK should talk to him about Special Operations Executive (SOE) activities. However,because he himself had no secret organisation in France (there were only groups who used him as a figurehead),  control of these organisations should remain with the UK but  consultation would be useful 'as a way of keeping him out of Torch'. In March 1943 the Cabinet discussed de Gaulle's wish to visit the Free French troops:


We ought to stop de G. broadcasting.


He can't w'out pre-censorship by me.
I wd say "examd. request : not a good time to go, in interests unity between 2 sections : wd. prefer he shd. wait until Catroux has negotiated : not therefore prudent to give facilities for his journey".


x/ Ask Press not to discuss it. F. French will try propaganda about "prisoner".


There will prob. be trouble here – his reputation is higher than ever.
What effect in Syria of holding him from going?


Nothing. The biggest trouble will be here.


Put it quite bluntly. And arrest him if he tries to leave eg. by Fr destroyer.

W.M.(43)37th Meeting held on 3 March 1943.


In June 1943 the Cabinet discussed the relationship between, and the American view of, Generals Giraud and de Gaulle and how to tackle the US about the issue:


If he resigns & make a fuss I'll have to make a statement in Parlt. if pressed:  but that will mean  making the case v. de G.  Greatest living barrier to re-union & restoration of France:  insensate ambition.


On other side, tho' de G. has behaved like a fool, equal suspicion of Giraud as a re-actionary leaning twds. Pétain.  Don't pin all hopes on G. as tho' he was v. good.  Remember too that the name "de G." stands throughout France as the spirit of resistance:  the man who never gave up etc…U.S. views v. unreliable, they know nothg. about France.

W.M.(43)87th Meeting held on 21 June 1943

Should we bomb Rome?
In December 1942 the Cabinet discussed the approach which had been made by the Vatican and whether the United Nations should refrain from bombing Rome.  The Cabinet discussed whether there was anything in Rome worth bombing and whether they wanted to bomb Rome:


Nothg. much in R. worth bombing.


Yes Rlway.


Not thro' centre of city : but v. vulnerable marshalling yards just outside.


Not concluded on this : but no harm in playing game with them. V. damming to their morale if they bolt.

W.M.(42)171st Meeting held on 21 December 1942


The following extract shows what the situation was like in Burma:


Japs over-estimated our strength & withdrew w'out opposn:  then returned & held our advance... our battle casualties = 1500.  J. = 2.500. Since end Feb. no figures but believed high. V. high sickness casualties – record:  25% p. month…admit we are not as good as Japs at jungle warfare

W.M.(43)44th Meeting held on 22 March 1943.

Churchill and Stalin

The following extract gives a flavour of Churchill's meeting with Stalin in Moscow:


4 mtgs. nil to add to a/c circulated. But opinion – large man: great sagacity. Expld. some past mysteries. Pre-war misleadg, of our Missions etc. because certain B. didn't intend war – wd. frame-up with French. Confirmed by our offers – F. 80 Divns. B. 3 Divns. Sure H. wasn't bluffing. At Munich an effort might have bn. made after tht. nil with our offered strength.
When Molotov there in June '40 you raided Berlin. Ribbentrop took him to shelter.
Effect on M. of his visit here has bn. permanent – never stops smiling – now thought in Russia to have a B. orientation, whereas of old he had a German orientation.

W.M.(42)118th Meeting held on 25 August 1942.