Skip to content


During the research for the book Flightpath to Murder, published in 2009, I visited the cemetery at Emmerich, Germany and the mass grave of those who were killed in the Allied bombing of the town in October 1944. Men, women, and children. A few weeks prior to the RAF’s attack an Australian fighter pilot, Bill Maloney, had been murdered, having been shot down, quickly captured, and then beaten and shot. Bill’s story was told in the book Flightpath to Murder and he was at rest on the other side of the Rhine, in the Reichswald Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

It affected me greatly, standing by the graves of children killed by Allied bombing. My grandfather was a Bomber Command pilot. Could this be justified? Was this necessary to defeat Nazism? Is there an absolute morality, or can it be relative? I reached my conclusions, uncomfortable though they were, based on the intention of the bombing offensive – the liberation of Europe from the Nazis – though the cost was extreme and horrific. The greater failing would have been to allow Nazism to maintain and expand its grip. In accepting this I was accepting a relative morality.

Cemetery in Emmerich containing the graves of those killed following the Allied bombing in 1944.

Recent events in the Middle East have brought to mind, again, the thought processes and conclusions I reached fifteen years ago. During the Blitz of 1940/41 the Luftwaffe killed tens of thousands of British civilians. In taking the war back to Germany, the RAF, joined by the USAAF, killed hundreds of thousands of Germans. In doing so Germany lost the war but was the bombing proportionate, necessary, and justifiable? Can similarities be drawn in regard Israel’s response to the 7 October Hamas terrorist attack. What is acceptable in effecting the defeat of evil regimes?

In March I will be attending the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Great Escape, at Stalag Luft III in Poland, and laying a wreath to remember the fifty Allied airmen murdered in the aftermath of the escape. I will be driving there and intend to visit numerous sites on the way associated with the Allied bombing offensive in the Second World War, and the criminality of National Socialism. On the way there: the Rheinberg Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery; the Möhne Dam; Buchenwald Concentration Camp; and Dresden. And on the way back: Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp; Nordhausen; the Eder Dam; and Leopoldsburg Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

Is the death of those killed by the flooding once the Möhne and Eder dams were breached justified? Is the scale of death owing to the bombing at Dresden and at Nordhausen justified? Is the cost in lives of Allied airmen shot following the escape from Stalag Luft III, and the lives of the aircrew buried at the Rheinberg and Leopoldsburg cemeteries acceptable? Was it all necessary in eliminating the atrocity of Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora, and the ideology that created them?

Published inBomber CommandGeneralPrisoner of War

One Comment

  1. Cherry Greveson Cherry Greveson

    Perhaps the problem is with the word ‘justified’?
    In totally objective terms, it is pretty well impossible to ‘justify’ these horrendous actions. But history has taught us that accepting the deeds of, or appeasing despotic rulers and regimes simply allows them to become more extreme and more destructive of human lives.
    Since reason will not prevail, what else is there to do but ‘take up arms’?
    We can see that allowing Putin to interfere violently, at will, has only encouraged him to be more bold, more audacious.
    None of the bomber Command veterans, or other veterans I know are violent men. Yet all believe that there was no other way to stop the malevolent regime in Nazi Germany

Comments are closed.