TARGET LONDON: UNDER ATTACK FROM THE V-WEAPONS DURING WORLD WAR II, by Christy Campbell, reviewed in RCAF Journal.

TARGET LONDON: UNDER ATTACK FROM THE V-WEAPONS DURING WORLD WAR II, by Christy Campbell, reviewed in RCAF Journal.

9781408702925

This fascinating book is an object lesson in the personalized politicization of intelligence as well as a study in strategic targeting and air power. Some readers may be familiar with the broad aspects of Nazi Germany’s advanced weapons programmes during the Second World War. In addition to rocket and jet-propelled aircraft, the Fieseler F-103 cruise missile, better known as the V-1, and the A-4 ballistic missile, better known as the V-2, became notorious as Hitler’s Germany sought a means to retaliate for the Allied combined bomber offensive. What we are not overly familiar with is the internal British intelligence debate over these new threats, the planned use of weapons of mass destruction as one possible Allied response, and how the two issues were connected. Target London is really the first work to use primary sources to seriously explore this linkage.

The issue of how to reconcile the early Second World War histories with the 1970s’ revelations on Anglo–American signals intelligence, collectively known as “Ultra,” is handled extremely well in Target London. Indeed, Christy Campbell’s mother worked at Bletchley Park, and the author’s keen interest in events at that special facility are woven into the narrative. In addition to the technical aspects of Nazi Germany’s advanced weapons programmes, Campbell’s depiction of the internal British debate over their capabilities should be used as a case study in the role of personalities and their foibles in suppressing intelligence. The ostensible (and historic) heroes of the story are brought down to earth, as it were, as we see the unelected bureaucrats block the elected political protagonists from vital information the political leadership needed to make timely decisions to respond to the emergent threat. Indeed, when intelligence data disproves the dismissive attitude towards the new weapons that one faction indulges in, that information was downplayed, if not suppressed. Reading Campbell’s depiction of the internal bureaucratic competition between several separate agencies over V-weapons intelligence is nothing short of disturbing, especially when the tone and attitude virtually replicate the tenor of the intelligence failures that prevented the 9/11 attack plots from being uncovered before they occurred and the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction intelligence fiasco. It was only with the intervention of a strong leader, in this case Winston Churchill, that anything got done. Lacking perceptive and strong leadership at the top in situations like these is a sure path to disaster. In effect, Churchill and those around him were so disturbed by the initial V-1 cruise missile attacks in the summer of 1944, and the subsequent V-2 attacks that fall, that they contemplated chemical and biological weapons use against German cities and their populations. It appears as though the V-weapons were, in fact, having a greater impact on British morale and will than was previously understood in the historical literature—and the damage was much greater. Indeed, the fact that there was no possibility of point or terminal defence against the V-2 played right into this state of affairs. Target London explains that chemical weapons factories tooled up and anodyne bombs, termed “light case bombs,” were churned out and stockpiled near the six forward filling depots, facilities that would have placed the chemical agent in the bomb, in late 1944 in anticipated preparation for their use. Parenthetically, the possibility of dropping Anthrax (which, incidentally, would have been produced by Canadian facilities, the most advanced in the free world at this time) was seriously explored. A contributing factor that Campbell delves into was the problem of targeting. There were only so many strategic bombers and only so many tactical fighter-bombers. What proportion should be diverted from other activities to deal with the launch sites? Especially when those other activities included the strategic bombing offensive and operational-level interdiction on the Normandy front? When resources wiped out the detectable V-1 sites, the Germans shifted to mobile launcher units which were next to impossible to target. This is an interesting precursor of the 1991 Scud-hunt problem during Operation DESERT STORM. Shifting again to attacking production facilities at source was more problematic: the sinister Schutzstaffel (SS) General Hans Kammler’s ability to work 17,000 slave workers to death digging what amounted to an underground city to build the V-1s and V-2s was seriously underestimated. Using missile construction gantries to hang recalcitrant workers en masse sums up the psychopathology of the Nazi enterprise through its mixture of the medieval and the ultra-modern in the pursuit of the insane. The Canadian angle is buried in the work, and this comes as no surprise. The Canadian contribution to Bomber Command presumably would have been part of the response (there were three forward filling depots assigned to Bomber Command), and this raises interesting questions. To what extent did Mackenzie King and his government know about these preparations? To what extent did the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and its leadership know? How did all of this relate to existing Canadian policy on chemical weapons use? And why is none of this discussed in any significant detail in the Directorate of History and Heritage’s relatively recent RCAF histories? There are many threads that Campbell tantalizingly leaves undone. One of them is a possible motivation for the ultimately disastrous Operation MARKET GARDEN in September 1944 and its relationship to the need to cut off the launch sites in the Netherlands from their resupply chain back into Germany. Another is the constant effort by the British leadership and intelligence community to keep their fellow American allies in the dark. We are today used to our military people being subjected to American NOFORN (no foreign) policies so it is interesting to see the same compartmentalization process applied to them by the British in 1944. Campbell has done us a good turn by the questions he raises in Target London. This well-sourced and well-written work should make for serious discussion and elaboration