Air Chief Marshal Portal's Note to Winston Churchill
Concerning British Reprisal Bombings in Germany
(January 6, 1943)
At the Staff Conference on Thursday, at which General
Sikorski's telegram [calling for the bombing on a large scale
of non-military objectives in Germany
in retaliation for German
savagery] was considered, you [Churchill] suggested that if Berlin
was raided in the near future leaflets should be dropped during the
raid telling the Germans that our attacks were reprisals for the persecution
of the Poles and the Jews. At the time I was attracted by the idea,
but on further consideration I think I ought to ask you to consider
the objections to it which seem to me to be rather formidable.
First, by labelling as a reprisal any
raid even on Berlin (particularly as there is no special feature or
weapon that we can introduce into it) we would automatically abandon
our previous position, which is that our attacks on cities are attacks
on military objectives (including industry) and therefore lawful
Alternatively, if we claimed that the raid had been
an especially violent or effective one, should we not have the dilemma
(a) "Why not always do the same?" or (b) "You are competing
in brutality with the Germans"?
Then again, we should almost certainly be overwhelmed
with requests from all the other Allies that we should also redress
their grievances in the same way. This would result in nothing but a
series of "token" reprisals which would not only be completely
ineffective as deterrents but would destroy the last shreds of the cloak
of legality which at present covers our operations.
Finally, we should make it much easier for the Germans
to institute reprisals against our captured air crews.
[Minuted at the bottom of the document by Churchill:]
From: Bernard Wasserstein, "Britain and the Jews
of Europe 1939-1945, Institute of Jewish Affairs," 1979, p. 307.
Vashem - Eclipse of Humanity