Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The Light Night-Striking Force of Mosquitoes raided Berlin 170 times, thirty-six of these on consecutive nights. On 10 July the Mosquitoes were on the ‘Milk Run’ again: Berlin or bust. Wing Commander Steven D. Watts DSO DFC MiD the CO of 692 Squadron, was shot down off Terschelling by Major Hans Karlowski of 2./NJG1. Watts and his observer, Pilot Officer AA. Matheson DFM RNZAF were lost without trace.
The operational use of the Mosquito bomber had forced the Nachtjagd to reconsider the Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) method to hunt the high-performance aircraft at high altitude with Fw 190A-5s and A-6s and Bf 109Gs with Neptun AI radar and a long-range fuel-tank. Oberleutnant Fritz Krause, a Staffelkapitän in the experimental I./NJGr10 at Berlin-Werneuchen commanded by Hauptmann Friedrich Karl Müller132 whose main task this was, recalls:
The new Heinkel 219 two-motor night-hunter to combat the Mosquito was not quite ready while the jet-hunter, the Me 262, was not available in sufficient numbers. So the task of testing the new methods fell mainly to one Staffel of the Wilde Sau. We had to meet the two quite different uses of the Mosquito. Firstly, there was the nightly raid to bomb Berlin and secondly their use as pathfinders at high altitude in the Ruhr. Night after night, thirty to forty Mosquitoes flew to Berlin and dropped bombs and the psychological stress on the Berliners was considerable. Flak and searchlights were moved to Berlin without having any considerable or lasting effect. The Mosquitoes flew at altitudes above 30,000 ft and after crossing the Elbe lost height to fly over Berlin at the highest possible speed to avoid the concentrated flak. The direction of the flights across Berlin was different with each operation.
A number of different tactical methods using night-hunters was tested but the following method, which I used with success, was the most effective. When the first of the incoming Mosquitoes crossed the Rhine, five single-engined hunters took off from Werneuchen and climbed to orbiting positions at 35,000ft in the NE, NW, SE, SW and the centre of Berlin, each position being marked by a strong master searchlight. This made it possible for at least one night-hunter, irrespective of the direction from which the attack was coming, to spot the Mosquitoes before they flew across the city. (As the single-engined fighter’s speed advantage over the Mosquito was only 60 kph there was only a short time available for hunting so a greater speed was required to catch the Mosquitoes and this was obtained by making a steep dive from the waiting position). Of course this method depended on good weather and visibility so that the searchlights could pick up the plane at high altitude. Up to 25,000ft the flak had a fire-free zone but the area above this limit was reserved for the hunters. The Mosquitoes usually entered Berlin at around 20,000ft and the problem now was that the hunters had to avoid their own flak. I often experienced shells exploding near me, disturbing me while hunting.
On 8 July Krause took off at 00.40 hours in ‘Weisse Elf’ (‘White 11’) a FuG 217 J2 (Neptun) equipped Fw 190A-5 and destroyed a Mosquito near Brandenburg, his only victory in this unit. Kruase describes his victory:
I was flying over Berlin at a height of 8,500 metres when I saw a twin-engined plane flying west caught in the searchlights. I closed in until I was 700 metres above, gave full throttle and dived. I went in too low and opened fire from approximately 200 metres from below and behind and kept firing as I closed. My first shots hit the right motor and an explosion followed. There was a burst of sparks and then a thick white trail of vapour. As I had overshot I had to stop the attack momentarily and found myself on the right, alongside the enemy aircraft, whose cockade and external fuel tanks I saw clearly and so was able to identify it without a doubt as a Mosquito. I fired ESN to draw the attention of the flak and the searchlight to my presence. The enemy ‘corkscrewed’ in an attempt to evade. Because of the thick ‘white flag’ of vapour I was able to follow him, although he had already left the searchlight zone in a north-westerly direction. Following the trail, I managed to attack twice more. At the third attack I noticed a further explosion on the right wing and an even stronger rain of sparks. At 2,000 metres he disappeared, turning at a flat gliding-angle under me. I did not see the impact on the ground as this was hidden from my angle of view. On my return flight, passing Lake Koppeln I could estimate the crash-point as 60-70 kilometres north-west of Berlin. When I returned to base a report had already reached them about the crash of a burning enemy aircraft west of Kürytz. My own plane was covered in oil from the damaged Mosquito.
On 18/19 July when twenty-two Mosquitoes were despatched to Berlin, 29 year old Squadron Leader Terry ‘Doddy’ Dodwell RAFVR DFC* and Pilot Officer George Cash, a 571 Squadron Mosquito team who had been on ops for nearly a year, were lost. They are believed to have been intercepted and shot down by Hauptmann Heinz Strüning of 3/NJG1, flying in a modified He 219 Uhu night fighter. Dodwell was killed and Cash survived to be taken prisoner. Two nights later, on 20/21 July, during a LNSF raid on Hamburg by twenty-six Mosquitoes, Strüning shot down another 571 Squadron B.XVI crewed by Flight Lieutenants Thompson and Jack Calder RCAF. Thompson baled out but Calder was killed.
During the first week of August a series of heavy daylight bombing raids were made on V-1 flying bomb sites in the Pas de Calais and storage dumps at Bois de Cassan, Forêt de Nieppe and Trossy-St-Maxim. For photographic and marking purposes a lone Mosquito of 627 Squadron accompanied 5 Group’s Lancasters. Flying Officer John Whitehead of 627 Squadron flew one of these photo sorties on 3 August. Whitehead recalls:
It was a wonderful sunny August day, marked forever in my mind: Woodhall Spa; flirting with girls around a swimming pool. But it was time to dress, to get into our Mossie and take off for France. I had a photographer aboard in place of my usual navigator, Johnny Watt. The idea was to cross one of our bomber streams that was on the way to bomb a V1 dump, cross it diagonally, to get some of their fighter protection, then to descend steeply and mark a V-1 dump for the heavies. We were late off the ground and the poster that was displayed at all RAF stations during the war years: ‘The Straggler is Lost!’ came to mind and worried us. We crossed at the rear end of the 5 Group Lancaster stream, being turned nearly upside down a couple of times by the slipstream of one of them. Hundreds of them were silhouetted against the true blue sky, glistening here and there in that extraordinary day’s sunlight. A stream of Messerschmitts appeared high up, not interested in us Mossies and some Spitfires streaked after them. We had two 500lb bombs aboard in addition to the markers and they also had to be delivered, in a second dive onto the same target. But the area had become somewhat of a wasps’ nest. It seemed everybody was shooting down on us from the surrounding hills while we were, by now, hugging the ground at 300 knots awaiting a quiet stretch before I would dare to pull up sharply at full bore to gain height and get away. And there, an apparition, a scene, a happening! We whizzed by a tea party in the garden of a Chateau! I believe that I recognised the pattern of Sevre china and saw clearly the butler holding a silver tray. He was looking up frowning with disapproval. I am not quite sure whether the surprised people actually waved, but they certainly looked up. That’s the least they could do, to express their support for my war effort? I was stunned for a moment by this dissonance of war and peace, those three seconds of it. Then we tried to get up to height, twisting and turning while the flak still followed us. Once it had thinned out we flew home happily to Woodhall Spa, hardly even looking back to France, confident and relaxed. Who would try to go after a lone Mosquito going home? The sun was still up, the sky still cloudless, when I returned to the swimming pool to continue my flirt with the girls. The number had shrunk to only one by now and she was somewhat sunburned. But she was there!
In August 692 Squadron at Graveley had a run of bad luck. On the 25th Squadron Leader W.D.W. Bird and Sergeant F.W. Hudson were killed when they crashed at Park Farm, Old Warden near Bedford. It was believed that the pilot misread his altimeter. On 27 August on a trip to Mannheim Flight Lieutenant T.H. Galloway DFM and Sergeant J. Murrell swung on take-off, caught fire and blew up. The ‘Cookie’ went off, but was not detonated, so it did not cause too much damage. Galloway and Murray got out when the Mosquito caught fire and ran to safety. Over the target Flying Officer S.G.A. Warner and Flying Officer W.K. McGregor RCAF were shot down and killed and the searchlights and flak followed them all the way down. On 10/11 September it was the old Milk Run again to Berlin. Terry Goodwin DFC DFM a 692 Squadron pilot at Graveley flew this operation, his last on the Mosquito and he had a rather anxious time, as he recounts:
After Hugh Hay had finished his tour I had several good navigators with nothing to worry about. However, when my last trip was coming up there was a new navigator posted in. He was a Warrant Officer with no trips in at all. I just could not figure that out when all crews at that time had a tour under their belts and knew what the score was. I took him for a cross-country, which was not satisfactory as he had trouble with the Gee. I did not know whether it was a ‘short’ or a ‘long’ trip: either the Ruhr or Berlin. It turned out to be the ‘big city’.
The night was clear. The take-off with the 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ was good. The aircraft was singing right along with all gauges OK. The track was out over the North Sea towards Denmark then a sharp turn right south-east to a point just west of Berlin then straight east for the bombing run. When we were approaching this turning point it was clear with no moon. I could see the coast outline right from Denmark south. The tram trolleys of Hamburg were still making their blue sparks and then shut down fully. Then the sprog navigator said to me, “I don’t know where we are!” I told him to get the course from the turning point and I would tell him when to start all over again. He did and got us just west of Berlin on time or at least I thought we were on time. I told him to log the time, then go and dump the Window down the chute. There was no action outside as we ran up looking for the ‘TIs’. Jerry was playing it very careful giving nothing away. Where was that PFF type? The TIs should be going down! Then all hell broke loose. Every searchlight in the city came on right on us and the flak was too damn close. I turned sharp right and dived 2,000ft, straightened out back on course, held it, turned left and climbed and got more flak but further away. And this kept on and on. Finally the lights were bending east so I thought we should be through the city. I turned back west and still no PFF. I told the navigator to drop the ‘Cookie’ (I don’t think we got a proper picture) because the flak was hard at us again. Then the TIs went down right ahead of us so we were pretty close. But the flak kept on and I twisted and dived and climbed and kept that up. I knew we were down to about 17,000ft when I suddenly saw the light flak opening up. You knew it was pretty if it was not so damn serious. I turned and climbed out on the west side of Berlin. I told the navigator to log the time. We had been in it for 11 minutes with Jerry’s undivided attention. Were there any fighters? Not that I saw, maybe I was just too busy. It would not have been a safe place for them with all that flak around. We did get home and logged 4 hours and 30 minutes. The next morning the Flight Sergeant found me and then showed me the aircraft. It was full of flak; the main spar of the tail plane was getting an 18-inch splice. He dug a piece of flak out for me. One piece had just nicked the intercooler rad, then the fairing for the main rad. but not the tubes, but was spent as it bounced around the engine.
Berlin at this time was the ‘favourite’ destination for the Mosquitoes. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights at 8 (PFF) Group stations were routed to the Big City over towns and cities whose air raid sirens would announce their arrival overhead, although they were not the targets for the Mosquitoes’ bombs. Depriving the Germans of much needed sleep and comfort was a very effective nuisance weapon, while a 4,000pounder nestling in the bomb bay was a more tangible ‘calling card’. The ‘night postmen’ had two rounds: After take-off crews immediately climbed to height, departed Cromer and flew the dog-leg route Heligoland-Bremen-Hamburg. The second route saw departure over Woodbridge and went to The Ruhr-Hannover-Munich. Two Mosquito bombers, which failed to return from the attack on Berlin on 13/14 September, were claimed shot down south-east of the capital by Oberfeldwebel Egbert Jaacks of I./NJG10 and at Braunschweig by Leutnant Karl Mitterdorfer of 10./JG300.
Friday, August 5, 2016
Thursday, March 10, 2016
The Möhne dam the day following the attacks.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson on parade during the King’s visit of May 27, 1943.
Operation Chastise, the Dambuster raid against the Möhne, Eder, Sorpe and Ennepe Dams in Germany’s Ruhr industrial region, was only made possible by the ground-breaking work of the aviation designer, Dr Barnes Wallis.
Barnes Neville Wallis was born on 26 September 1887 in Ripley, Derbyshire, and was educated at the prestigious Christ’s Hospital boarding school in Horsham, West Sussex. He rose to prominence with his pioneering geodetic basket-weave method of airframe construction, which was adopted for the R100 airship in 1930 while he was working for Vickers-Armstrongs’ Airship Guarantee Company in Hull. Pierson recognised Wallis’ obvious talents and encouraged him to move into aircraft design. Wallis subsequently worked closely with Pierson on the development of the Vickers Wellesley and Vickers Wellington bombers, both of which used his geodetic design for the construction of their wings and fuselage.
Initially, his idea was that the bomb should be used to attack German capital ships, including the Tirpitz, which was hidden away deep inside a Norwegian fjord. His intention was that the bomb would bounce across the water of the fjord and so avoid the torpedo nets that protected her, nets that made a conventional attack almost impossible. Not surprisingly therefore, it was the Royal Navy that first championed the proposal and encouraged Wallis to pursue it further. It was the support from the Admiralty that led to a series of trials at Chesil Beach in Dorset in January 1943, tests which eventually proved the bomb’s viability. It is widely regarded that without the Admiralty’s support the bouncing bomb may not have got off the drawing board.
It was at this time that a flurry of political wrangling took place behind the scenes of the Air Staff which threatened to put an end to the bouncing bomb. Air Vice-Marshal Francis Linnell at the Ministry of Aircraft Production was known to be sceptical about the bomb and was concerned that the time Wallis was spending on developing it would distract him from vital work needed to get the Vickers Windsor heavy-bomber into production. On 12 February 1943 Wallis learnt that Linnell was planning to request that the bouncing bomb project be cancelled. Determined to see it through Wallis wrote to a friend at the Air Ministry, Group Captain Fred Winterbottom, to see what could be done to save the bomb. His seemingly desperate letter included the phrase “help, oh help” written across the bottom.
Winterbottom wrote to Air Vice-Marshal Francis Inglis, a senior officer on the Air Staff and suggested, falsely, that the Prime Minister was interested in the bomb, that the Royal Navy were likely to move the development of the bomb forward without the Royal Air Force and implied that the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Portal had not been fully briefed on the situation.
Learning of Winterbottom’s letter, Air Vice-Marshal Linnell wrote to Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command and warned him that a number of his precious Lancaster bombers may be requisitioned for the bouncing bomb. Furious at the potential loss of the aircraft Harris wrote a stern letter to Air Chief Marshal Portal on 18 February 1943, which suggested that he thought the weapon only existed in the imagination of those who had proposed it and that “Highball is just about the maddest proposition as any that have yet come across – and that is saying something.”
Linnell then contacted Charles Craven, the chairman of Vickers and warned him that Wallis’ actions in pressing for the bouncing bomb were putting his company’s commercial interests at risk. Wallis was put under pressure by Craven to drop the project, but, as was typical of his stubborn nature, he chose instead to resign from Vickers.
Winterbottom’s letter to Inglis, however, had remarkably managed to turn the situation around. On 19 February 1943, the day after Harris had written his letter, Inglis had ensured that Portal had been fully briefed and that he was shown the footage of the trials at Chesil Beach. As a result of this briefing Portal wrote to Harris saying: “As you know I have the greatest respect for your opinion on all technical and operational matters and I agree with you that it is quite possible that the Highball and Upkeep projects may come to nothing. Nevertheless I do not feel inclined to refuse Air Staff interest in these weapons since I think the whole conception is far simpler than that of the Johnny Walker or the Toraplane, and we know that the full size mock-up of Highball does what is claimed for it (unless the cinema lies!)” Portal then ordered an astonished Linnell to approve the bouncing bomb project.
On 26 February 1943 Linnell briefed Wallis on the proposal to attack on the dams and stated that the raid would have to take place by the full-moon in May of that year. This gave Wallis just two months to complete his development, during which time Bomber Command was required to establish and train a special squadron to undertake the mission. The new 617 Squadron was established in record time and was based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, with Wing Commander Guy Gibson appointed as its commander. It has been suggested that Gibson handpicked the squadron from the ranks of former colleagues, choosing the most experienced crews. In fact Gibson had only previously known four of the pilots who joined the squadron. As for them being the most experienced, rear gunner Canadian Grant MacDonald had flown just four missions before he joined the squadron.
On the night of 16 May 1943 nineteen Lancaster Mk III bombers from 617 Squadron, armed with Upkeep bouncing bombs, took-off from RAF Scampton to attack the Möhne, Eder, Sorpe and Ennepe Dams in Germany’s Ruhr and Eder valleys. To compensate for the size and weight of the bomb, each aircraft was specially modified, which included removing most of the internal armour and the bomb-bay doors.
The aircraft were divided into three formations. The first consisted of nine aircraft and was assigned to the Möhne Dam, with orders to then attack the Eder Dam if they had any bombs remaining. The second formation consisted of a further five aircraft and was set the task of attacking the Sorpe Dam. The third formation was made up of another five aircraft and was intended as a reserve force that took-off two hours after the first two formations had departed. The second formation was the first to take-off and left RAF Scampton at 9.28pm on 16 May. They took a longer northern route to the dams, whilst the first formation, which took off from 9.39pm in groups of three at ten minute intervals, was assigned the shorter southern route. The third formation began to take-off early the following morning at 0.09am.
Gibson led the first formation and was the first to attack the Möhne Dam. Flight Lieutenant John Hopgood made the second run, but was hit by flak as he approached the dam and was then caught by the blast of his own bomb. Gibson flew across his flight-path in an attempt to draw away the enemy’s fire, but Hopgood crashed shortly after. Two of Hopgood’s crew managed to survive. Flight Lieutenant Harold Martin then made the next run and successfully attacked the dam, followed by Squadron Leader Henry Young and Flight Lieutenant David Maltby. The dam was eventually breached and Gibson led the remainder of the first formation on to the Eder Dam, with Lancasters piloted by Squadron Leader Henry Young, Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay and Flying Officer Les Knight.
Once over the Eder Valley the Lancasters encountered thick fog, which made lining up the next attack more difficult. Shannon made six runs at the target before he stepped aside and let Maudslay make an attempt. Maudslay dropped his bomb in the attack, but it clipped the top of the dam and the explosion damaged his aircraft. Shannon then made his next attempt, which successfully exploded behind the dam. Knight then made his next run and successfully exploded his bomb against the dam, which finally was sufficient to cause a breach.
Flight Lieutenant Joe McCarthy from the second formation, with Flight Sergeant Ken Brown and Flight Sergeant Cyril Anderson from the third formation, reached the Sorpe Dam. Unlike the other dams, which were made of concrete, the Sorpe was of earthen construction and was expected to be much harder to breach. For these attacks the Lancasters were to approach along the length of the dam, rather than at right angles, and the Upkeep bomb was not spun in the aircraft before it was dropped.
McCarthy made ten attempts at his run before he dropped his bomb. He managed a direct hit but caused very little damage. Brown made his attack, but also failed to damage the dam. Anderson abandoned his run due to the dense fog. The remaining Lancasters were then ordered on to other targets before turning for home. Pilot Officer Warner Ottley was shot down before he could reach the Lister Dam and although Flight Sergeant Bill Townsend managed to launch an attack on the Ennepe Dam his bomb did not cause any damage.
The surviving aircraft started arrive back at RAF Scampton from 3.11am. Gibson returned at 4.15am and Townsend was the last to return home, reaching the air base at 6.15am.
Of the nineteen Lancasters that left that night, eight did not make it back. The aircraft were required to fly at a perilous height of one-hundred feet for most of the journey in order to avoid enemy radar detection. As a result two of the Lancasters collided with power cables and were lost before reaching their targets, two aircraft were shot down over the Netherlands before they could reach their target and a third was shot down over Germany before it reached the dams. After the attack two Lancasters were shot down over Germany and one was shot down over the Netherlands. Fifty-three of the one-hundred and thirty-three aircrew who had left the previous evening were killed on the raid, of which thirteen were Canadian and two were Australian. There were three survivors taken prisoner-of-war, two were from Hopgood’s aircraft and the third was from Ottley’s.
A total of thirty-four air crew were recognised for their contribution to the raid and received decorations at a ceremony held at Buckingham Palace on 22 June 1943. Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross. In addition, five airmen received Distinguished Service Orders, ten Distinguished Flying Crosses and four bars, two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals and eleven Distinguished Flying Medals and one bar.
Wallis was shocked by the loss of life amongst the aircrew of 617 Squadron, who he had got to know during the weeks prior to the raid. When the Royal Commission awarded him £10,000 for his work during the war he donated it to his old school, Christ’s Hospital, to establish the RAF Foundationers’ Trust that could pay for children of airmen killed or injured in action to study at the school.
Wallis and his wife Molly had four children and their daughter Mary married Harry Stopes-Roe, the son of the women’s rights campaigner Marie Stopes and Humphrey Verdon-Roe, co-founder of AV Roe and Company Limited, the aircraft manufacturer that designed and built the Lancaster bomber.
A special memorial to those who took part in Operation Chastise was erected at Woodhall Spa, near to RAF Scampton. In 2008 a statue of Barnes Wallis was erected near Reculver in Herne Bay, Kent, where the Upkeep bomb was tested.
A memorial was erected in Neheim, four miles from the Möhne Dam, in memory of the German dead. Figures have since suggested that in Germany the raid cost the lives of 1,294 people, of which 749 were believed to have been French, Belgian, Dutch and Ukrainian prisoners of war and labourers.
Examples of various bouncing bomb prototypes can be found at museums around the UK, including the Aeronautical Museum at Brenzett, Romney Marsh, the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Dover Castle in Kent, the Imperial War Museum at Duxford in Cambridgeshire and the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum at RAF Manston in Kent.
A feature of the 1936 bomber specifications that had unlooked for beneficial repercussions was the requirement that the medium bomber P. 13/36 should be capable of modification to carry torpedoes. When tenders to specification P. 13/36 were received, it was found that provision to carry two 18 in. torpedoes (which were 18 ft long) without altering the main structure of the aircraft, or losing performance, was causing design difficulties. This led the DDOR (Oxland) to review the discussion on this issue that had taken place at the two Operational Requirements Committee meetings on P.13/36. He told the DCAS (Peirse) that the Coastal Command representative had given his C-in-C’s view that the aircraft was too large and expensive for a torpedo bomber. Even so, the then DCAS (Courtney) had argued that whilst there was the possibility of a limitation on the numbers of first-line aircraft, it was desirable that every unit should be as effective in war as possible. As we have seen, a muted form of the torpedo-carrying requirement was therefore included in the requirements.
Oxland recommended that as a dedicated torpedo bomber was now under development (B.10/36 — Bristol Beaufort) the torpedo requirement should be deleted from P.13/36. Alternatively, he said, provision could be made for a limited number of the aircraft to have larger bomb doors and so on.
The Operations and Plans branches of the Air Staff did not agree with deletion of the torpedo requirement. They advised Peirse that the Admiralty had yet to be persuaded that, ‘the “B” bomb is in every way a more efficient weapon with which to attack ships’, and that a torpedo bomber version of P. 13/36 should be developed until the Admiralty was convinced otherwise. (The ‘B’ bomb was designed to be dropped in the path of a ship, sink, and then rise to strike the bottom of the ship as it passed over.)
This discussion was made redundant when the Operational Requirements branch announced that it had new information on the size of torpedoes. It now found that the Avro P. 13/36 could carry only one internally, and that in any case existing torpedoes could not be released at 150 mph from 200 ft. If this was relevant, the DCAS (Peirse) must have wondered how the idea of torpedo carrying for P.13/36 had arisen in the first place. It appears that the Operational Requirements branch had given no more thought to the operational problems of torpedo dropping than they were later found to have given to catapult launching. Peirse decided that torpedo carrying would no longer be asked of the P.13/36 bombers. Nevertheless, the long bomb bay that had been required was to prove valuable when bombs larger than the 2,000 lb were found to be needed.
A common misconception regarding RAF bomber specifications is that they always sought to combine bomber and troop transport requirements, and it is suggested that this applied to the 1936 bomber specifications. We have seen that the requirement that a heavy bomber should be designed so as to carry troops was indeed included in the first draft specification for the B.3/34 (Whitley). The Air Staff had been led to believe that this additional role could be obtained without a reduction in its performance as a bomber. It was dropped from the specification after discussions with industry, and after the DTD admitted it would result in a loss of 10 mph in speed.
The 1936 bomber specifications (B.12/36 and P.13/36) stated:
Consideration is to be given in design for fitting a light removable form of seating for the maximum number of personnel that can be accommodated within the fuselage when the aircraft is being used for reinforcing Overseas Commands.
This was certainly not demanding provision for troop carrying. Seating was to be fitted in the fuselage, not that the fuselage was to be designed to take seating. Moreover, it referred to the need to transport RAF ground crew to RAF Overseas Commands — a concomitant of the introduction of a reinforcement range into bomber requirements. Significantly, only after the 1936 bomber specifications had been issued did the Air Staff investigate using them as transports, and proposed a provisional allocation of funds for a new transport in case this was not possible. But when this proposition was discussed it was decided that one of the bombers ‘must’ be used as a transport. In a later lecture to the Higher Commanders’ Course the point was made that these bombers ‘will have all the necessary cabin space, lift capacity and range to fulfil the bomber transport primary role and its secondary functions as well’. Nevertheless, the lecturer noted that ‘by reason of the multiplicity of internal installations in the fuselage the troops may not enjoy the same degree of comfort available in present types’. Indeed, when Bomber Command officers inspected the mock-up of the Supermarine design to B.12/36, far from finding accommodation for fully armed troops, they were concerned as to whether there was adequate room for the crew. They reported that headroom throughout the fuselage was restricted, and that even the captain and navigator did not have room to stand. Clearly a troop carrying requirement did not dominate — or even influence — the design of RAF bombers.
Another aspect of the future development of the aircraft designed to the 1936 bomber specifications was of great significance. We have seen that when Sir Edward Ellington saw the Air Staff Requirement for the new heavy bomber B.12/36, he asked for 20mm cannon armament to be considered. The Air Staff advised that this was neither possible nor necessary. Their reasoning was unsound, and the policy was soon reversed, but it was then too late to modify any of the designs to the 1936 bomber specifications, although attempts were made.
When the cannon fighter (F.37/35) was devised, the replacement of eight 0.303 in. machine guns by half that number of 20mm cannon was regarded as a major increase in armament. Yet, in response to Ellington’s request for consideration of cannon armament for bombers, Oxland examined only the replacement of machine guns by the same number of 20mm cannon. From this premise he argued that for a four-gun tail turret, the extra weight of cannon so far aft of the centre of gravity was unacceptable — hardly an insurmountable obstacle for aircraft which were yet to be designed. He added that recoil loads would give grave problems except for firing almost directly astern. For a two-gun midships turret, Oxland claimed that whilst the weight would be half that of the tail turret, the weight of the ammunition needed for an aircraft which would spend long periods over hostile territory was unacceptable. We will see that this self-contradictory argument was replaced in 1938 by recognition that it was worth exchanging half the bomb load for ammunition if that made it more likely that the remainder would get through. For the nose turret, Oxland said that cannon would obstruct the bomb aimer, and would be too heavy if beam fire was wanted. He then claimed that these difficulties could be avoided because a bomber did not need the extra range of a big gun.
This argument had appeared in the Operation Requirements branch’s review of fighter and bomber armament that we noted in our discussion of fighter firepower. It reasoned that when attacked from astern the effective range of a bomber’s firing was considerably shortened as compared with that of the attacking fighter. If we think of a fighter flying directly astern of a bomber, and at the same speed, then from the moment a projectile leaves the bomber the fighter is flying towards it, thus closing the effective range. Conversely, the range of the fighter’s firing opens, because the bomber is moving away from it. This theory was irrelevant to defence against beam or frontal attacks, and therefore to midships and nose turrets. Nevertheless, Oxland claimed that it largely disposed of one of the two supposed advantages of 20mm guns. As regards the other advantage of cannon — an explosive shell — he said that the stage had not been reached ‘where this can be utilised effectively without severe disadvantages’. There had been no mention of such difficulties when he and Sorley had advocated cannon armament for RAF fighters in the previous year — they then claimed that one hit from a 20mm round could be decisive.
Little more than a year after Oxland had argued against 20mm cannon armament for the B.12/36 he was advising Plans branch of the Air Staff that bombers of the immediate future would need to be armed with 20mm guns, and later with 37—40 mm guns.96 This was confirmed in a review of bomber armament in June 1938.
Plans were made to fit 20mm cannon to Mark II versions of the Stirling, Halifax and Manchester, but by then the centre of gravity issue was decisive because it had not been designed for in 1936. Experiments with twin 20mm cannon upper and lower midships turret for the Stirling and Halifax found that it was difficult to balance the aircraft even with the tail turret omitted entirely. W.S. Farren (then DD/RDA) explained to the Air Fighting Committee in 1940 that nevertheless this was the only way of having 20mm guns on existing bombers. He said that to have cannon in a tail turret, ‘they would have to start again from the beginning’.
The outcome of the 1936 bomber specifications was remarkable. On the one hand, the prospect of catapult take-off led to a requirement for a relatively small heavy bomber to carry a very large bomb load or have a longer range than that sought in earlier specifications. On the other hand, the desire for a multi-role high-speed medium bomber with a maximum range of 3,000 miles led to a relatively large aircraft of this type. Misleading interpretations of the Air Staff’s intentions in 1936 most likely arise from a retrospective view of the development of the aircraft designed to meet these requirements. It transpired that the aircraft designed to the medium bomber specification (P.13/36) embodied the potential for development into more successful heavy bombers (Halifax and Manchester/Lancaster) than that designed to the heavy bomber specification, B.12/36 (Stirling). That this was possible can be traced to three technical features of the medium bomber specification — gross overloading with catapult take-off, fuel tankage for a range of 3,000 miles, and provision for the internal stowage of torpedoes.
Initial designs to specification P.13/36 needed to be stressed for catapulting at maximum overload, and to have internal stowage for the overload bomb and fuel load. In addition, provision had to be made for an unobstructed bomb bay if some of the aircraft were to be modified to serve as torpedo bombers. These additions to the normal requirements gave scope for the future development of the aircraft which followed from the specification after both torpedo carrying and catapult take-off had been abandoned. There was space for much larger bombs than were envisaged in 1936, and the potential for operation with large bomb loads using a longer conventional take-off run.
The first step towards the transformation of the intended medium to a heavy bomber came from Handley Page. Soon after commencing design to P. 13/36 the company concluded that the aircraft would be very similar to their on-going design to B.1/35 — the ‘Americanised’ B.3/34 heavy bomber specification. They asked the Air Ministry if they could stop work on their contract for B.1/35 and absorb it into their P.13/36 design. This was agreed.
Both the Handley Page and Avro P.13/36 bombers were initially designed to be powered by two Vulture engines as anticipated by Verney. But on Air Ministry instructions the Handley Page design was soon changed to four Merlins, and was thought to meet the P.13/36 maximum overload requirement without assisted take-off, albeit with a long conventional take-off. Avro continued with the Vulture engine, but this proved a failure, and the P.13/36 Manchester was modified to the Lancaster, also with four Merlins. Thus the Air Ministry’s misplaced faith in the catapult scheme finished back where Liptrot’s first estimates for a new heavy bomber had started — with bombers powered by four Merlins — albeit derived from requirements for a medium bomber.
Monday, August 10, 2015
The Zoo Flak Tower
Target indicators falling over Berlin during a raid on the city
Berlin city strike photo
The 'Battles' of Bomber Command were not fought out between two sets of formed adversaries as in conventional combat. It is true that the Luftwaffe tried to engage the bombers and wear down their strength, but more than nine out of every ten bombers usually reached the target area unscathed, and it was here that the true battle was fought, between the tonnage of bombs dropped and the target city itself. The true German 'side' in the Battle of Berlin were the city's air-raid organization and civil administration, the resilience of its public services and of its industrial and commercial firms and, above all, the spirit and will-power of the civilian population.
Berlin as it stood awaiting the bombers in August 1943.
It was huge, being not only the capital and largest city in Germany, but the third largest city in the world, with an area covering nearly 900 square miles and a pre-war population of more than four million of the tough stock of local inhabitants. Now, in 1943, it was the administrative centre not only of Germany but of the new empire that had been carved out of Europe by conquest. Those massive government departments alone would have been a sufficient attraction for the R. A. F. interest, but Berlin's war factories and its rail and canal communications, standing halfway between the Western and Eastern Fronts, made it both a major arsenal and the hub of Germany's interior lines of communication. The 'big five' in war industry terms were the Alkett factory at Spandau, which produced large numbers of self-propelled guns and half of the Wehrmacht's field artillery; the Borsigwerke, making locomotives, rolling stock and heavy artillery; the D. W. M. and D. I. W. combines, both producing large quantities of small arms, mortars and ammunition; and Siemens, the huge electrical firm not only located in its self-contained 'Siemensstadt', a huge area packed with various factories, but with other plants all over Berlin. A selection of some of the other well-known names of firms with premises in Berlin confirms the obvious importance of the city to Germany's war effort: at least ten A. E. G. factories, the Arguswerke where V-i engines were built, a B. M. W. and two Daimler-Benz motor factories, two Henschel and one Dornier aircraft factories, a Mauser weapons factory, three Rheinmetall and three Telefunken factories, V. K. F. ball-bearings, Zeiss cameras. Most of this had been hardly touched by the war so far. When Britain rearmed in the mid-1930s a bomber force was planned with the range to reach Berlin. But the first attack was delayed for nearly a year, initially by the general bombing restraint which held until the German offensive in the West in May 1940, and then by the R. A. F.'s preoccupation with the Battle of France and the home invasion threat. The first raid was carried out by about fifty Wellingtons and Hampdens on the night of 25/26 August 1940, in retaliation for a raid on London the previous night. It was a disappointing raid. Strong head winds, thick cloud and the navigation problems which were to hamper the bomber crews for much of the war resulted in only a handful of aircraft reaching the Berlin area to drop a few bombs in the countryside south of the city. But Bomber Command persisted for more than a year. The records for that period do not make it clear exactly how many sorties were dispatched to Berlin, but possibly a thousand aircraft attempted to bomb the city between August 1940 and November 1941. At least sixty-two bombers were lost in these operations. The climax came on the night of 7/8 November 1941, when 169 aircraft were dispatched to Berlin, despite a poor weather forecast. Twenty-one of these did not return. It was the culmination of a disappointing period and the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, departed.
When Sir Arthur Harris took over early in 1942, he ignored Berlin for the whole of that year, preferring to build up the strength of his force carefully and to experiment with new tactics against easier targets. Then, in early 1943, came a series of five raids, with 1,415 four-engined aircraft sorties being sent to Berlin. These raids produced moderate results; various residential areas were damaged and about 650 Berliners were killed. By no more than chance, all of these raids hit only the southern districts of Berlin; the administrative centre and the industrial areas which were mainly in the north were hardly touched. Now, in August 1943, after the shorter nights of summer, Harris was ready to start with his main effort against the German capital. The tonnage of bombs he would be able to deliver to Berlin in the coming winter would be more than fifteen times greater than the tonnage dropped in all of the preceding years of the war.
German historians stress how the slow expansion of the British bomber effort over the early years of the war enabled the German authorities to develop both the armed defences of their cities and the local air-raid services without ever being overwhelmed - at least, not until the recent disaster at Hamburg. Berlin, with its gradual introduction to the experience of being bombed and with the priorities afforded to a capital city, was particularly well prepared to meet the coming test.
The preparations received an urgent boost from the experiences of Hamburg three weeks earlier. Evacuation of children before then had been a voluntary matter; the result had not been effective, and many of the children sent away in the early days later returned. But after Hamburg, Goebbels, who besides being Minister of Propaganda was also Gauleiter of Berlin, ordered that all children and young mothers were to leave the city. Entire schools, children and teachers together, went off to the east, out of range of the British bombers. The school buildings thus emptied would become valuable emergency hospitals and collecting centres for the people bombed out of their homes in the coming raids. Because of the pressure on the railways, this mass evacuation was not complete by the time the first R. A. F. raids came, but it continued with even more urgency after the first series of raids and would be complete before the Battle of Berlin was resumed in November. A total of 790,000 women and children left, an exodus which saved many lives and reduced the pressure on Berlin's services during the main battle. This was in direct contrast to the recent Hamburg experience, when the children of that city had figured prominently in the huge death toll.
Berlin was and still is a city of flats (apartments to Americans), vast numbers of four-, five- or six-storeyed blocks filling street after street, and it would be in these flats and in their basements and courtyards that the outcome of the battle would be decided. The life of Hamburg had been temporarily stopped because its housing had been destroyed by fire. In those August days, the people of Berlin worked hard to learn the lessons of Hamburg and make their homes as fireproof as possible. Each family in a block had a partitioned section of the building's attic; now, all belongings had to be removed from these, and the Todt Organisation then came and ripped down the partitioned walls of the attics to enable incendiary bombs to be reached. Fresh supplies were added to the sand and water which every family was obliged to have in their flat and corridor. Berlin was particularly well equipped with air-raid shelters. As in London, the underground railway stations- in Berlin the U-Bahn - provided deep and safe shelter for thousands of people. But the Berliners had an advantage over the people of London ; every block of flats had a large basement area and these became sturdy air-raid shelters for the families upstairs. No German city dweller of the war years will forget the countless hours spent with their neighbours in those basement shelters. To avoid being trapped in a shelter by rubble-blocked exits, holes were knocked through the walls separating each basement. These holes were then re-covered, to preserve the privacy of each shelter, but only with a thin layer of easily removable bricks. In this way, the people in a threatened shelter could move from one basement to another, the whole length of a street if necessary, to find an unblocked exit.
Again, comparison can be made with both London and Hamburg. Berlin was a more modern city, the streets of its residential districts were wider, with more room for an incendiary-bomb attack to waste itself and less chance of the rubble blocking the streets to fire-engines or of fire leaping from one side of the street to the other.
There were more open spaces. There were no streets of the flimsy terraced houses which had suffered so badly from high explosive bombs in the London 'Blitz', and the Berlin blocks of flats were acknowledged to be of sounder construction than those in Hamburg which had burnt so fiercely in the Firestorm. Then there were the Flak and the searchlights - the armed defence of the city. Berlin was known to all Bomber Command men as 'the Big City' because of the extent of that defence. Flying Officer R. E. Luke, of 426 Squadron, was a bomb aimer who had to fly over Berlin.
The murmur which swept through the briefing room when the target map of Berlin was revealed paid tribute to the severity of the defences, which, particularly on a cloudless night, struck fear into the hearts of those crews ordered to attack it. It seemed to us that only the best German personnel were posted to defend the city. An enormous cone of searchlights ringed the city, which could be seen a long way off, and it did not seem possible to breach them. In all our thirty-three operations we encountered no target more heavily defended than Berlin.
Flight Lieutenant R. B. Leigh was another bomb aimer, in 156 Squadron.
Lying in the nose of a Lancaster on a visual bomb run over Berlin was probably the most frightening experience of my lifetime. Approaching the target, the city appeared to be surrounded by rings of searchlights, and the Flak was always intense. The run-up seemed endless, the minutes of flying 'straight and level' seemed like hours and every second I expected to be blown to pieces. I sweated with fear, and the perspiration seemed to freeze on my body.
A Bomber Command map of the period shows that the Flak area around Berlin measured forty miles across, and the searchlight belt around it was sixty miles wide! Certainly no other target in Germany was better defended than Berlin, though some Bomber Command men say that the Ruhr defences were of comparable strength.
Some aspects of the Berlin defences are of particular interest. The Flak defences had been installed early in the war, with an outer and an inner ring of guns. When the R. A. F. started to use a 'bomber stream' this system was no longer suitable, and the guns now operated under combined control and simply filled various ordered sections of the sky with a box barrage, although bombers which arrived early, stragglers or those caught in searchlights could still be engaged by aimed fire. The main feature of the old inner ring of guns was twenty-four massive 128-millimetre guns mounted in pairs on three Flak towers built in parks in the Zoo, Friedrichshain and Humboldthain districts. These guns had been developed by the local Borsigwerke factory. The eight guns on each tower could fire a salvo every ninety seconds, to a maximum ceiling of 45,000 feet (14,800 metres) and, when the eight shells exploded in the planned pattern, they had a lethal zone of 260 yards (240 metres) across. The gun platform crews on the towers were all trained German soldiers, unlike most German Flak batteries which had many pressed Russian prisoners and German schoolboys in their crews; the only Russians were down in the basement ammunition chambers, loading the shell hoists. Many of the gunners on the towers were from a Hamburg unit with much to avenge.
The construction of the towers themselves, by the Todt Organisation on plans by Speer, had commenced as early as 1940. Hitler wished to show the people of Berlin and of the world that the city was 'Fortress Berlin' which would survive the war and last for ever. Hamburg and Vienna were the only other places to be blessed with such massive edifices. The Flak towers in Berlin were to be the first buildings of the proposed post-war remodelled city named Germania which would replace old Berlin. The towers had thick concrete walls, steel windows, air-conditioning and an independent Daimler-Benz generating plant six metres underground. All had a hospital floor, and the Zoo tower had one level in which the most valuable of Berlin's art treasures were stored. The local residents were, at first, not happy to see their parks disfigured in this way but they were later to be well pleased when certain levels in the towers were thrown open to the public as air-raid shelters. The Humboldthain tower had passages leading to the nearby Gesundbrunnen Station, one of the deepest of the U-Bahn system. Up to 21,000 people at a time would take shelter in the combined tower and U-Bahn during the coming winter.
Another interesting aspect of Berlin's anti-bomber defences is the extent of the decoy methods employed. Decoy fire sites were a feature of every German city, but Berlin is believed to have had fifteen such sites, including one particularly large one at Staaken, on the western approaches to the city, which was based on the sets of a prewar film studio. One wartime schoolboy Flakhilfer asked about the wartime rumour that one night several bombers separated from the main stream and dropped some wooden bombs on the Staaken decoy site!
There was another, more serious 'decoy' story I was told in Berlin that I had not encountered before. The Germans realized that the lakes around Berlin were an important aid to the British H2S radar operators. Consideration was given during the summer of 1943 to covering over these lakes to prevent their distinctive radar reflections being used by the bombers. This was not possible because of the amount of material required, but the Germans did produce large numbers of timbered floats, each in a cruciform shape about five metres across, which were moored at about 300-yard intervals, certainly on the Tegeler See and probably on the Havel too. These two large lakes were on the westerly route into Berlin. The effectiveness of these floats - called Tripel- Spiegel- is not known, but they may have contributed to the difficulties encountered by the Pathfinders in establishing their positions on the marking runs into Berlin that winter.
So Berlin - with its tough population of mainly Prussian stock, its great war factories and government buildings, its stoutly constructed housing, its gradual introduction to the bombing war, its well established fire and air-raid services, its Flak towers and underground shelters, its powerful gun and searchlight defences, its range of decoy devices - Berlin awaited the arrival of the bombers.
A typical Lancaster bomb load during the Berlin attacks comprised high-explosive bombs, including a 4,000lb `cookie' and incendiaries.
Nicknamed the `Big City' by the crews of Bomber Command, the German capital was one of the most feared of targets. Berlin was a formidable prospect: it meant the heaviest of defences and a long flight over enemy-occupied territory.
Almost 600 miles from London, early in the war Berlin was close to the maximum range of the then available bomber aircraft types. Nonetheless, the first RAF raid was mounted at the height of the Battle of Britain on the night of August 25, 1940, when 95 aircraft were dispatched. Five more `ops' were flown over the next two weeks and others followed over the next year. But difficulties in navigating accurately led to the small loads dropped being widely dispersed and after November 1941 Berlin was not attacked again until January 16/17, 1943.
The arrival of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris as C-in-C in 1942 reinvigorated Bomber Command as it steadily increased in size and effectiveness. New tactics evolved, such as the `bomber stream', and new navigation and targeting aids meant that by early 1943 Harris was ready for what he described as his main offensive.
This campaign was to last a year and feature a series of `battles'; the concept being to repeatedly concentrate the `Main Force' against a particular objective until it was deemed to have been destroyed. The principal, and most effective, weapon for the campaign was the superb Avro Lancaster.
Throughout the spring of 1943, the industrial heartland of the Ruhr valley was the target for the first of the epic set-piece, followed by a brief assault on Hamburg that destroyed much of the port city.
From the outset it was established that for cogent tactical reasons, as well as those imposed by the weather, none of these battles would exclusively focus on the capital. A resolute campaign against Berlin would have allowed the enemy to concentrate defences, so route variations, tactical feints and new devices were introduced to outwit the Germans.
But the defenders were very adaptable. The RAF's introduction of `Window', which disrupted radar pictures, led to the development of new and highly effective tactics: single-engined Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) fighters flew over the target to acquire bombers visually - followed later by long-range radar-equipped Sahne Sau (Tame Boar) nightfighters. Both were to reap a grim harvest through the coming winter. Before the campaign began there were several precursory attacks in the late summer of 1943. The first was on the night of August 23/24 when 710 bombers were launched on the heaviest Berlin raid to date.
On the night of November 18/19, Harris opened the Battle of Berlin proper, with the first of a series of 16 attacks. So as to disguise the primary purpose, smaller raids on other targets were mounted to split the enemy defences, often flown by the more vulnerable Stirlings and Merlin-engined Halifaxes.
As expected, Berlin's highly co-ordinated defences inflicted heavy losses on the bombers. To keep the Germans guessing, at times dummy raids were staged on Berlin when other cities were the main target. Leipzig was twice the centre of Bomber Command's attention, requiring very long transits and exposing the Lancasters to unremitting high risk.
Approach and egress routes to the `Big City' became more complex as the campaign evolved. Streaming via Denmark, with lots of course changes en route to the target was adopted as a tactic. Longer legs via the Baltic, providing a route to Berlin from the north, also added an element of surprise. The flight path home was also changed on a sortie-to-sortie basis.
The Battle of Berlin witnessed the advent of Schrage Musik, deadly upward-firing cannon mounted in the upper fuselage of night-fighters. This enabled the defending fighter force to approach bombers from below, with fires on the ground and searchlights illuminating their quarry. On the bombers, front and rear gunners scanning the skies for fighters would have their vision blurred by looking down on the light sources.
The final raid of the Battle of Berlin came on March 30/31, a `maximum effort' against Nuremberg, a diversionary strike to keep the Luftwaffe guessing. A total of 96 aircraft fell, Bomber Command's worst night of the war. Despite immense courage and unimaginable hardship and sacrifice by the men of Bomber Command, the assault on the `Big City' ended in operational failure that some historians have described as being not just a defeat, but a disaster.