During the war, public opinion in Britain and the Dominions was firmly on the side of Bomber Command. However, there was also some determined criticism of Bomber Command’s campaigns, not least by George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who argued the case against area bombing in the House of Lords.
The Hansard debate of 9 February 1944 is well worth reading to get a view of contemporary opinion about the huge Bomber Command offensives against Berlin, Hamburg and other key German cities.
Note: George Bell’s reputation has become very overshadowed in recent years by reports of him seriously abusing his position. It is probably necessary to mention this here although it has no direct bearing upon the debate.
EXERT FROM THE BISHOP’S SPEECH
I turn to the situation in February, 1944, and the terrific devastation by Bomber Command of German towns. I do not forget the Luftwaffe, or its tremendous bombing of Belgrade, Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Portsmouth, Coventry, Canterbury and many other places of military, industrial and cultural importance. Hitler is a barbarian. There is no decent person on the Allied side who is likely to suggest that we should make him our pattern or attempt to be competitors in that market. It is clear enough that large-scale bombing of enemy towns was begun by the Nazis. I am not arguing that point at all. The question with which I am concerned is this. Do the Government understand the full force of what area bombardment is doing and is destroying now? Are they alive not only to the vastness of the material damage, much of which is irreparable, but also to the harvest they are laying up for the future relationships of the peoples of Europe as well as to its moral implications?
EXERT FROM THE RESPONSE OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS, VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I sometimes wondered as I listened to the right reverend Prelate—I appreciate his sincerity—whether he really wants to help these people, because if he does want to get them out of their misery he must accept the implications of that policy. The only way to end this horror is to beat our enemies rapidly and completely and restore enduring peace. That is the only way. From that aim we must not avert our eyes, however kind our hearts, however deep our sentiments. While, therefore, I deeply respect the high motives which have inspired the right reverend Prelate, and while I am glad to give the general assurance contained in the earlier part of my speech, I cannot hold out hope that we shall abate our bombing policy. On the contrary, we shall continue it against proper and suitable targets with increasing power and more crushing effects until final victory is achieved. So alone, in my view, shall we be able to fulfil our obligations to our own people, to our Allies, and to the world.