Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Terry Copp

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The concept of strategic bombardment of targets by aircraft grew out of the long range bombing which took place in the First World War. By the eve of the Second World War, Royal Air Force officers and many politicians in Britain were convinced that the 'bomber would always get through.' Events in the opening months of the war proved otherwise. Bomber Command met severe losses during daylight raids and was forced to adopt night tactics. It was realized by mid-1941 that, operating in the dark, crews could not often find their targets with existing tactics and equipment. Worse, losses continued. In an effort to improve the efficiency of the Command (tons of bombs dropped per aircraft lost) and its effectiveness in carrying the war to Germany an Operational Research Section was established in September 1941. Staffed by civilian scientists, the section's mandate called for it to look into and find solutions to problems of navigation and target finding as well as countermeasures against enemy defences. Soon thereafter a new and dynamic commander was appointed. Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris was to press forcefully for the maximum application of strategic bombing throughout the war. Harris was an experienced bomber commander who, along with his senior service personnel, could see some of the problems facing the flyers. Yet it was the scientists who, working closely with him and the headquarters staff, were able to find solutions to many of the most vexing issues. This thesis reviews the major investigations carried out by the Operational Research Section over almost four years and argues that Harris and his senior subordinates relied on this scientific advice in making many important decisions. In so doing, this research demonstrates that the Commander had an intellectual flexibility which is seldom recognized in the existing literature.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season