And speaking of June 6th and D-Day…
In World War II – up to and beyond D-Day – some of our fathers, uncles and other relatives flew in bombers (B-17s and the like), from bases in England, with targets in Germany and other European countries.
The flight over the English Channel, then to their target and back was usually pretty harrowing; flak, enemy fighters, seeing fellow fliers shot down or killed before their eyes. But when they got back home, their ordeal was far from over.
The first thing they did was de-brief. They’d been “briefed” before the flight, where they learned their objectives and what they’d be up against. So de-briefings were just interviews after the fact – very probing interviews – at which the fliers got questioned to see how close they came to their objectives. How many and how effective were the enemy fighters? How close to the targets did they come? What did they do wrong? How could they have done better?
At the start of the war the de-briefings were “abysmal.” Fliers were wildly optimistic about how well they’d done, how close to the targets their bombs fell, and how many enemy fighters they’d shot down. And because they believed in the righteousness of their cause, at the start of the bomber offensive these fliers tended to downplay anything negative about their missions.
Part of the problem was that at the start the people who conducted the de-briefings weren’t all that experienced. They didn’t know how to ask the kind of skeptical, probing questions that got accurate feedback. (And at the beginning, such probing questions were no doubt greatly annoying to some fliers). The interviewers didn’t know how to ask, or felt uncomfortable asking, the kind of questions by which the fliers could learn what they did wrong.
But eventually, “Bomber Command” started using aerial-reconnaissance photos and other sophisticated tools of “feedback.” Then the fliers started seeing how wildly optimistic, and wildly inaccurate, those first de-briefings were. So in time. the de-briefings got better, more probing, and so more accurate. Then the missions themselves got more and more efficient.
* * * *
Maybe that’s what the Bible and/or the church concepts of sin and confession are all about. (Or should be about.) When we “sin” we simply fall short of our goals; we “miss the target.” When we “confess,” we simply admit to ourselves how far short of the target we were. And maybe the purpose of all this is not to make people feel guilty all the time, as some seem to imply.
So maybe the concepts of sin, repentance and confession are tools to help us get closer to the target “next time out,” even if we know we can never become “perfect.”
The upper image is courtesy of the Denver Post “Plog,”D–Day in Color, Photographs from the Normandy Invasion. The caption reads: “Planes from the 344th Bomb Group, which led the IX Bomber Command formations on D-Day on June 6, 2014. Operations started in March 1944 with attacks on targets in German-occupied France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. After the beginning of the Normandy invasion, the Group was active at Cotentin Peninsula, Caen, Saint-Lo and the Falaise Gap. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images) #.”
The Churchill quote is courtesy of The Bombing Offensive | History.co.uk.
Sources include The Air War in Europe, by Ronald Bailey, Time-Life Books (1979), at pages 35-36, and Max Hastings’ Bomber Command, Dial Press/James Wade (1979), at pages 102-103.
As a side-bar, there was a similar bomber offensive against Japan, but not as many books or movies about it. And there were also air bases in Italy, from which the 15th Air Force bombed Germany and its satellites, but that didn’t get much “ink” either. One exception was the book The Wild Blue, by Stephen Ambrose, about the 15th Air Force and pilots including 22-year-old George McGovern. He flew 35 missions and won the Distinguished Flying Cross, but was later accused by conservatives, in the 1972 presidential election, of being not patriotic or “manly” enough. (On that note, there was the story of McGovern giving a speech in the 1972 campaign, and being heckled by a Nixon fan. McGovern called him over and whispered, “Listen, you son-of-a-bitch, why don’t you kiss my ass?” The remark was widely reported and next night “KMA” buttons appeared at McGovern rallies. Years later, McGovern saw Senator James Eastland (Mississippi) looking across the Senate floor and chuckling. Eastland subsequently approached McGovern and asked, “Did you really tell that guy in ’72 to kiss your ass?” McGovern smiled and nodded, and Eastland said, “That was the best line in the campaign…” See George McGovern presidential campaign, 1972 – Wikipedia, the …)
So anyway, pages 35-36 of The Air War in Europe described the beginning of what came to be the “bomber offensive,” to December 1940. Before then, based on nothing but “rosy reports” from fliers themselves, after-action reports were wildly optimistic. With the advent of photo-reconnaissance (for example), fliers were “shocked” by negative feedback which showed how short of the mark they were falling. Early in the war it was discovered that for every ten air crews who claimed to drop their bombs on target, only one (10%) actually dropped the bomb load within five miles of the target.
And finally, pages 102-103 of Bomber Command described how, at the start of the war, the level and accuracy of de-briefings was “abysmal,” conducted by staff members with no idea how to ask the kind of questions that could evoke accurate answers, and who “invariably overstated crews’ claims.” The passage also noted that with time, both the level of de-briefings and the efficiency of the individual missions improved.
The lower image is courtesy of Combined Bomber Offensive – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The caption reads: “8th Air Force B-17 during raid of October 9, 1943 on the Focke-Wulf aircraft factory at Marienburg.”