There have been reports from almost every front that troops of every nation are
seriously affected by aerial bombing; at the same time the reports indicate that
the actual casualties from aerial bombing are light. The conclusion seems to be
that in the majority of eyewitness accounts of aerial bombing of troop dispositions, the
effect of the noise of the bursting bombs on the morale of the troops was much greater
than the physical injuries inflicted. The use by the Japanese of noise as a weapon was reported
in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 25, p. 24. The
following notes on aerial bombing are taken from an Australian publication.
* * *
The enemy had uninterrupted mastery of the air in Malaya, especially towards the end
of the campaign. The actual physical casualties among the troops were very light, though
there were psychological casualties.
The reason for the light physical casualties was that in Malaya concealment from
air observation was extremely easy and slit trenches gave perfect cover where troop
concentrations, motor transport, bivouac areas, headquarters and supply dumps were
usually located. The enemy had great difficulty in discovering these targets and
they were practically immune from bombing. On occasions, however, the location of
these targets was indicated by 5th columnists.
In Malaya on one occasion, a young Japanese soldier personally directed an
aeroplane by waving a flag--carried by most Japanese soldiers--towards the
object to be bombed. A common sign was the cutting of a swathe of grass or
the trampling of a sign in rice fields in the shape of an arrow pointing
to the target. White circles on the roadway, made by spilling rice or flour, were
frequently used as a signal. Banana leaves were often used, being laid on the road
in the shape of an arrow. Laundry and timber have been similarly used. The enemy
airmen were quick to notice these signs. At night, lights were used to guide bombers
towards their targets. These aids helped the Japanese airmen considerably.
Where no cover from view is available, protection can be obtained by dispersal. In the
western desert, thousands of motor transport vehicles and artillery regiments could camp
dispersed in the desert unmolested by enemy aircraft which frequently flew overhead. A
wide dispersal, leaving a gap of at least 250 yards between vehicles, provided ample
protection. In aerial bombing under such conditions, only a lucky hit would do damage, and
then only one vehicle could be hit at a time. Transport moving along tree-covered roads in
Malaya was immune while intervals of not less than 10 per mile were employed. But over and
over again a congestion of even two vehicles brought aerial bombing, frequently with disastrous
results. It was a habit of some motor transport drivers whenever enemy aircraft approached to
stop their vehicles in the middle of the road and run for concealment in a neighboring
plantation. Drivers of following vehicles banked up close behind them and also ran for
cover. This invited trouble, and the invitation was always accepted.
During operations no vehicle should stop within 150 yards of another vehicle unless
well-concealed from air observation. Where troops are unable to obtain concealment, they
can make themselves comparatively safe by digging slit trenches. In one small area in
Malaya a force so dug in on high ground covering an airfield, though severely bombed, had
only one casualty--a man who was running from one slit trench to another. The remainder
were not hurt, though many bomb craters extended to within a few feet of the slit trenches. On
no occasion in Malaya did aerial bombing cause severe casualties to troops in slit
trenches. Troops in the open obtained almost equal immunity if they lay flat on the
ground. In other theaters of war the same experience has been noted.
The walls of buildings gave perfect protection against bomb splinters, though a few men
have been hurt by falling plaster and debris. The chief danger in buildings is the inclination
to herd too many men in the one area so that an unlucky hit on the building will cause a large
number of casualties. When headquarters is established in buildings, it is necessary to ensure
that the walls are splinter-proof, that the windows and doors are protected against splinters, and
that no more men than necessary are allowed to remain at their posts in the building
during an air raid.
It has been found that troops rush shelters unnecessarily when enemy aircraft are
in the vicinity. The alert signal should be given when enemy aircraft are reported
in the area and the alarm, the signal to rush for shelter, should only be given when
it is apparent that the enemy intends to bomb the area occupied. Air watchers will
soon become discerning and able to distinguish enemy aircraft from our own, and
when a bombing of the area is likely.
Though the physical casualties caused by aerial bombs are light when adequate protective
measures are adopted, the effect on the morale of troops is still serious. This should
not be so with well-trained soldiers. It is the noise of the explosion that has this
effect and not the bomb itself. Troops should be taught to ignore the noise. Their panic
commences when they rush for cover. They should be discouraged from running madly for
the air-raid shelters whenever an enemy airplane is in the vicinity. The steadying voice
of an officer who is a good leader should control them and help them to control themselves. It
is better that they should suffer a few casualties by walking to cover rather than suffer
heavy casualties in morale by running madly and becoming panic stricken. Officers and NCO's
should give the men an example by exhibiting coolness. They should control the men both
while they are moving to cover and while the bombs are falling. Any officer who is unable
to do this should be relieved of his command at once. During the bombing, men should be
encouraged to sing and to joke about the noise of the bombs, to do anything and everything
that will help them to maintain their self-control.
During training, men should be instructed as to the fewness of casualties from direct
bombing when in shelters or lying flat on the ground. They should be taught to steel
themselves against becoming rattled by the deafening noise caused by the explosion
of the bomb.