Bomber Command Operational Tour Policies
Updated: January 2008
At the outbreak of World War 2, there was no hard and fast policy to determine when an Operational front line bomber crew or crewman, for that matter, had completed a tour of operations and should be rested or to use the official terminology “screened.”
Generally it was accepted that after 200 operational flying hours regardless of the distance, duration or number of flights flown, a crewman would be considered for “screening.” If approved he would be posted to a training unit for a rest period. At completion of this rest period it was usually accepted that each airman would return for a second tour.
This policy however had a large hole in it in that the wording stated “operational flying hours” and this meant all hours logged for an offensive operation, whether it was attacked or not counted towards the completion of the 200 hours tour.
By mid 1942 Arthur Harris, C-in-C Bomber Command, felt that the 200 hours tour may allow some of his less determined crews to “fiddle the books” by taking off from their bases, flying out over the North Sea, jettisoning their bomb load and then flying around for the “accepted” duration of the flight. These hours then being credited to their tours, but in fact no collateral damage to the target being achieved. He was of course determined to get the most out of each offensive sortie and this sort of attitude was totally unacceptable to him.
In August 1942, Harris consulted his Group Commanders about revising the operational tour from 200 flying hours to ‘the successful completion of thirty (30) operational sorties.” Also that each Squadron Commanding Officer would be responsible for determining each crews success by the use of photographic evidence. This evidence was to be obtained by a camera being installed into each bomber that took a picture of that aircraft’s bomb load hitting the ground. There was general acceptance, so Harris forwarded the proposal to the Air Ministry for consideration.
On 4 February 1943 the Air Ministry had approved the revised rules for the completion of an Operational Bombing tour and added the stipulation that a “second tour” could not exceed 20 additional sorties.
Pathfinder tours were also confirmed to be of a length of no less than 45 operational sorties - to be flown continuously. Upon completion of which it was generally accepted that an airman was not required to return after his training posting for a second tour. In other words the completion of a Pathfinder tour was considered the same as the completion of two regular main-force tours.
By March 1944 Bomber Command had already been placed under the Command of General Eisenhower who commanded the European invasion plan and later the entire invasion forces. As such, Harris’s bombers were ordered to attack communication and other selected targets in France. Harris realised that these so called “soft or easy targets” many of which were often of fairly short duration, would cause many of his experience crews to become tour expired in a very short period of time. He made his concerns known to the Air Ministry who after review and due consideration agreed and issued a revision to the bomber tour policy which stated that any sorties flown to France in support of either the pre-invasion or in support of the invasion afterwards would, until further notice, count as only one-third (1/3) of an operational sortie.
This policy was, however, reversed after several raids suffered heavy losses and disproved the “soft or easy target” concept.
At the completion of a bomber tour the airman was awarded a silver winged "O"
At the completion of a second tour a bar was hung under the "O"
At the completion of a third tour a second bar was hung under the "O"