RAF’s third raid on Berlin

‘Two nights later we returned to Berlin…

…to be met by numerous searchlights and well directed and intensive flak. The raids must have destroyed the myth of German invincibility, thus causing considerable anger to Hitler and Goering who had boasted that such raids would never happen.’ 
– Squadron Leader Andrew Jackson, DFC, No 149 Sqn –

Photo: © IWM (C 428).

On Friday 30 August 1940 afternoon, Bomber Command men were briefed to raid Berlin again. This would be the third bombing raid in four nights against the heart of the Reich, following the previous attack made two nights earlier (28/29 August) which, as we see on previous posts, hit the city center for the first time causing death victims among the Berlin population.[1] 

From the initial retaliation raid, Churchill continued his strategic air campaign against the Third Reich’s capital, overruling the initial Bomber Command objections of bombing Berlin.[2] The Germans had increased the number of raids on the previous night when nearly 200 bombers dropped bombs on Merseyde and Manchester. On the 30th, from early morning Luftwaffe aircraft maintained its pressure on the RAF attacking several airfields in southeastern England. Those bombings, view as indiscriminate and aimed to Britain’s civil population, marked the continuation of night attacks on Berlin by the Prime Minister but justified targeting industrial and military objectives on the city.[3] 

This third raid has been normally omitted in Second World War general studies and often confused or mixed with the previous one, both their figures and damage caused, even detailed and focused on the air campaign works such as the one by Prof Overy wrongly states the exact dates of the bombardment.[4]

As with previous raids, first question to aboard was the exact number of bombers sent to attack Berlin. Again, started from Bomber Command’s operational reference book (Middlebrook, 1985) to get an overall figure of that night sorties, which surprisingly, not mentioned Berlin: ‘87 Blenheims, Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys to 5 targets in Germany and to airfields in France, Holland and Belgium.’ [5] Author Larry Donnelly as usual describes in his book a more detailed breakdown of the night operations, giving a more precise number of the bombing force sent and losses, naming the most important targets of the mission too.[6] Napier, author of the latest book about the Wellington bomber, for his part just refers to the squadrons of the type involved on this operation, without any figure or brief description of the raid[7] meanwhile others like Bowman not mention it and jump to the next raid on the very next night.[8] Paul Tweddle, in his Bomber Command summer 1940 book, narrates the mission with reference to ‘a twenty-nine-strong force [3 Group]’ and a further dozen Whitleys from 4 Group and includes a pair of crew testimonies relating that night sorties over Berlin.[9] Finally, looking at German historians research, Dr Laurenz Demp refers in his study about the bombings on Berlin the number of planes over the capital, according to British sources, as being just twenty-six.[10]

Careful study of primary sources, in this case each squadron operational records (ORBs), let us to affirm that London sent forty-one twin-engined bombers to attack the city as part of a 87-aircraft force targeting objectives in Germany, Holland and France. In all, 34 crews of those sent reached Berlin with more or less success.[11]

[The crew of a Vickers Wellington of No. 99 Squadron RAF get into their Irvin two-piece flying suits in the crew room, before taking off for a night raid to Berlin.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 2505).

Industrial targets
Bomber Command allocated two of its bombing groups the mission of targeting the ‘Big City’ —as British crews known the German capital— on that late summer night. Each bomber would fly individually the 650 miles to its assigned Berlin-target in darkness and radio silence. In Suffolk, home of the No 3 Group, the squadrons stations received on the early afternoon Order Form B.255 which ordered “to cause max damage to targets given in para ‘G’ and to create maximum disturbance over Germany during the hours of darkness.” [12]

Again, main target of the operation was Siemensstadt, where the Siemens & Halske works (coded G.161) at the northwestern part of the capital was the intended objective for fifteen of the raiders. Another squadron of the Group would target F.23, British codename for the Henschel Flugzeug-Werke A.G. (HFW) aircraft factory located in Berlin-Schönefeld, where the Hs 123 dive bomber and parts of the Hs 126 reconnaissance aircraft among other types were built. Alternative target for the bombing force were the Tempelhof oil storage facilities, although half of the attackers finally bombed the already known Klingenberg power station in Rummelsburg (B.57).[13]

[A view of the assembly line of Hs 126 aircraft at the Henschel Flugzeug-Werke factory in Berlin-Schönefeld.]

Photo: Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo (00319536).

[A map showing Schönefeld area in the early 1940s with the Flugplatz and the Henschel HFW buildings installed nearby, very close to today’s Berlin-Schönefeld airport.]

Photo: AMS M841 GSGS 4414, Courtesy Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

No 3 Group’s operation order also shows the vital importance that the Air Ministry gave to halt production at Siemens works ordering that as many sorties as possible detailed to attack G161 to be loaded with 2000 lb of bombs” and requested pictures of the factory to be taken.[14]

Photo: TNA AIR-27-793 © Crown Copyright.

Meanwhile, in North Yorkshire, No 4 Group was given operations Order No 67 which ordered “to inflict maximum damage to Target allotted” and assigned two of its squadrons equipped with Whitley bombers to the task. Primary objectives were two oil storages located in the capital (coded A.155 and A.156) with a munition factory in Spandau coded C.18 as alternative target.[15] Bomb load of this force consisted in two 500-lb bombs, four 250-lb, one 250-lb delay-fuze bomb and one canister of incendiaries (IBs) carried by each Whitley bomber.

This time none of the Hampden squadrons (5 Group) participated, being assigned to harass Germany’s oil supply installations on that night.[16]

Photo: TNA AIR-27-659A © Crown Copyright.

R.A.F. Lands Explosives in Middle of Berlin”
The more experienced unit of the 3 Group, No 149 Squadron, was briefed to attack objectives A.78 in Magdeburg and Siemens & Halske Werke in Berlin, departing RAF Mildenhall aerodrome at intervals from 20.21 hrs totalling ten aircraft. The squadron’s ORB noted that the mission was carried out and that all machines returned safely to base. One of the bombers (Wellington R3161 ‘O’ manned by P/O Loat crew) returned early with a sick man aboard.[17]

[500-lb MC and 250-lb GP bombs, being delivered to bomb a Vickers Wellington Mark IC of No 149 Squadron RAF at a dispersal at Mildenhall airfield.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 2676).

Making its combat debut on a Berlin raid on this night was No 214 Squadron from RAF Stradishall, in Suffolk. At this station, five crews were detailed to attack the Siemens works (G.161) and another five to bomb B.57 Klingenberg power station. Four of them reported to have attacked G.161 dropping their bombs effectively, meanwhile two more attacked Klingenberg although the O’ Connor crew was only able to drop incendiaries on it. Two other crews failed to reach Berlin due to engine issues and had to attack targets of opportunity on the Zuider Zee area and a third, piloted by P/O Simson, returned to base early, bringing back home all the bomb load. Nothing was heard or seen of Wellington T2559, declared missing with F/O Craigie-Halkett crew aboard.[18] 

Finally, 99 Squadron flying from RAF Newmarket, Suffolk, contributed with six Wellington bombers sortied. Two of them bombed Tempelhof’s marshalling yards (M499) and at least one reported seen huge flashes and bursts. Four other crews attacked the Henschel factory in Schönefeld but none of them seen results due to haze and clouds.[19]

[Vickers Wellington Mark ICT2470 ‘BU-K’, of No 214 Squadron RAF, is towed into a C-type hangar at Stradishall, Suffolk, for repair and overhaul following damage sustained on operations. ‘K-King’ took off at 21.29 hrs piloted by F/L Kauffman tasked to attack the Siemens works in Berlin on that evening.]

[A 214 Squadron (‘BU’ codes on the fuselage) Wellington takes off just prior night falls in eastern England. The ‘Wimpy’ was the best and most advanced bomber the British had at the time.]

Photo: Paul Tweddle/ Historypress.

Meanwhile, No 4 Group men readied for the forthcoming operation too. The two assigned squadrons from this group Nos 58 and 77 were both based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse aerodrome at the time. The attack route was planned via Bridlington coast and from then set direct course to Berlin individually covered by darkness.[20]

The 58 Squadron went first and, soon after dinner, detailed nine aircraft with mixed results, just four claimed to have bombed the city: one bomber hit A156 and saw a red glow, another one attacked Tempelhof with 3 sticks of bombs from 8,000ft reporting seeing fires started and a huge explosion and a third one bombed Siemensstadt instead and a rail junction south of target. Another crew noted to have bombed an aerodrome in the Spandau area. The others failed to locate their objectives (including Sqr Leader Barlett which encountered heavy AA fire and searchlight that prevented target ID) or abandoned the mission and jettisoned their bombs in the sea on the return flight.[21] 

Minutes later, 77 Squadron dispatched six more Whitleys. They took off from 20.35 hrs similarly tasked and headed to Berlin. Crews reported clouds all the way to the target and very heavy AA fire met over Bremen area, but not so intense over the Reich capital. Back in England, all reported to have dropped their bombs over the target from an average height of 8,000 feet, claiming several direct hits and violent explosions seen and considerable fires started by incendiaries.[22]

[RAF armourers ‘bombing up’ an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V with 250-lb General Purpose bombs in 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 107777).

[The pilot of a Whitley bomber gives the “thumbs up” during the pre-flight check prior to take off to another bombing sortie, August 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 104667).

Radar-controlled night victory
The RAF lost two aircraft in this Berlin sortie: one was Whitley P5002, a bomber from 58 Squadron coded ‘GE-T’. The crew failed to locate any target so bombed a factory near Nordhorn. On the return leg, the aircraft was low on fuel and pilot P/O Neville O Clements ordered to abandon the aircraft circa 05.00 into the North Sea, off Hornsea. All crew was rescued minus Sgt Hill, who was presumed drowned, his body being lost.[23]

The other victim was Wellington IA T2559BU-A’, a 214 Sqn machine which during the outward-flight to Berlin was shot down at 23.24 hrs by Oberleutnant Werner Streib of 2./NJG 1, who was flying a Bf 110 night fighter from Anholt airfield. The bomber crashed near Halle (Gelderland), the Netherlands, the impact detonating the bomb load. This was the first ground-radar tracked victory at night, Streib and his ‘bordfunker’ being led by a ‘Wurzburg’ radar in Raum 5B based at Deurne. The ‘Wimpy’ was coned before for 3 minutes by two searchlights of III./Flakscheinw. Rgt 1 and downed in flames by Streib, who observed no chutes from the fallen bomber.[24] 

The crew of six perished in the crash (Sgt. G H Bainbridge, F/O LM Cragie-Halkett, P/O WS Cunynghame, Sgt. SJ Haldane, Sgt. GE Merryweather and Sgt. AB Puzey) and were all buried at the local cemetery in Halle. The story behind the loss of T2559 has been well researched by Bennie Eenink. 

[German ace Hauptmann Werner Streib (left) posing with Major Wolfgang Falck, “father” of the Luftwaffe’s night fighting force. Wellington T2559 was Streib’s fourth victory claim of a total war score of 68. An hour later he dispatched another bomber, an 50 Sqn Hampden downed over Velen.] 

Photo: © IWM (HU 108207).

[A German Messerschmitt Bf 110E night fighter painted overall black in flight, in this case from 7. Staffel of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1. At this early stage of the war, German night fighters still lacked airborne radars so they depend of ground control to localize and engage the British raiders at night.]

Photo: asisbiz.

Two more ‘Wimpys’ returned safely but were damaged when they had to force land, both of them of 214 Squadron: Wellington IA P2530 piloted by F/O RR O’Connor, when returned to base and low on fuel, undershot into a ditch short of the runway with no casualties. The other was P9233 with F/O Proctor crew aboard that touched ground at Overton.[25]

[These pictures of T2559 wreck appeared in the Dutch Graafschapbode newspaper, as well as some others from the burial of the British crew in the first week of September, 1940.]

Photo from Bennie Eenink.

Carefully-selected military objectives in Berlin” 
Returning RAF crews interestingly reported that the city’s blackout was very effective and that haze and clouds made nearly impossible to observe the results of their bombing runs. Some pilots related that were unable to identify anything of interest through the clouds even after releasing flares to illuminate the zone, which forced them to turn for home or bombed some other target.[26] Others ran into AA heavy fire on route on the Bremen area and were astonished that it was less intense over Berlin centre and that it seems all the searchlights and guns were in the NW suburbs of the city.[27] 

At the same time, across the Channel, German aircraft took off from northern France bases heading in large formations to bomb Liverpool: about 130 Ju 88 and Heinkel bombers attacked meanwhile some others hit parts of London and Portsmouth, and Manchester, Bristol and Worcester received German bombs too with some 50 people killed.[28]

[The ruined organ of the Wallasey Town Hall in Merseyside, Liverpool, after being hit by a German bomb during the 30/31 August air raid.]

Photo: liverpool.echo.

On the next day, the Air Ministry released an official communiqué about the raid on Germany stating that objective for the bombers were industrial and military targets at the outskirts of the enemy’s capital city: “The R.A.F. bombers selected for special attack an objective four miles from the centre of the city”, and dropped a “large number of bombs on a series of carefully-selected military objectives in Berlin.” London admitted the loss of three of the bombers from all operations on that night.[29]

[No. 149 Squadron aircraft flying in ‘vic’ formation in the summer of 1940. Two of the bombers, Wellingtons ‘M’ serial R3206 (at right), and ‘N’ P9247 (in the far background), were among those sent to bomb Berlin on that night.]

Photo: © IWM (HU107813).

The escalation of the bombing war was evident and in the next days both bands would increase their bomb tonnage dropped over civilians. The importance to keep pressure on the Reich capital in Churchill’s view and beyond its military value was shown when the Air Ministry authorized for the first time a journalist to fly on the raid aboard one of the attacking bombers.[30] The RAF’s bombing arm, at a time when Britain was isolated and standing alone against the Nazi advance to the West, went onto the offensive attacking civilian targets in Germany soil, forcing a change of strategy in the air war by German leaders. 

Our next post will cover the German view and the consequences of this third raid on Berlin. 

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Notes:
[1] MOORHOUSE, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, 2011, pp 140-1.
[2] DENIS, Richards. Royal Air Force 1939-1945, 1. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1954, p 182.
[3] DONELLY, Larry. The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, 2004. p 120; a complete narrative of the day actions over Britain can be checked on the Battle of Britain Historical Society website. The Chronology: page-31. Friday August 30th - Saturday August 31st 1940.<https://www.battleofbritain1940.net/0031.html> The Air Ministry released a communiqué in which assumed thatthe object [of this German bombings] is to terrorize the civil population.” AIRMINDED, Saturday, 31 August 1940 <https://airminded.org/2010/08/31/saturday-31-august-1940/>
[4] OVERY, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane, 2013.
[5] MIDDLEBROOK, Martin and EVERETT, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014 Ed, p 78.
[6] DONELLYop. cit. pp 120-121.
[7] NAPIER, Michael. Vickers Wellington Units of Bomber Command (Combat Aircraft Book 133). Osprey Publishing, 2020, p 32.
[8] BOWMAN, Martin. Bomber Command. Cover of Darkness 1939 - May 1942. Volume: 1. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2011, pp 69-70.
[9] TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, pp 181-3.
[10] DEMPS, Laurenz (Ed). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 238.
[11] The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record Books: AIR 27. © Crown Copyright.
[12] see TNA AIR-27-1005.
[13] see TNA AIR-27-1325.
[14] ibid.
[15] see TNA AIR-27-659A.
[16] TWEDDLEop. cit. p182.
[17] see TNA AIR-27-1000-22.
[18] see TNA AIR-27-1319-5 and TNA AIR 27-1319-6.
[19] see TNA AIR-27-788-20.
[20] see TNA AIR-27-659A.
[21] see TNA AIR-27-543-20.
[22] see TNA AIR-27-655-24.
[23] CHORLEY, W R. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications, 2nd edition, 2013, pp 195-196; DONELLYop. cit. p 121. 
[24] The German combat report described the action: “…enemy aircraft burned immediately between the fuselage and starboard engine. No bale-outs observed. Impact in the night-fighting zone, during which bombs detonated.” BOITEN, Theo. Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite, 2018, p 24. Thanks to Ian Hunt which linked code letter ‘A’ to Wellington IA T2559.
[25] see TNA AIR-27-655-24 and TNA AIR 27-1319-6.
[26] In the operations order of the Group there is a clear mandatory to crews“to report on effectiveness of Black-out over Germany compared with this country”, see TNA AIR-27-659A. Some crew testimonies of this can be found at ‘Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain: Stories of The Many’ by Paul Tweddle https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/bomber-command-in-the-battle-of-britain-stories-of-the-many/
[27] see TNA AIR-27-655-24.
[28] Friday August 30th - Saturday August 31st 1940. Battle of Britain Historical Society. The Chronology: page-31. A chronicle of the German bombing operations can be found in: SMITH, J Richard and CREEK, Eddie J. Kampfflieger Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Two: July 1940-December 1941. Classic Publications, 2004, p 109; DONELLY: op. cit. p 120.
[29] The New York Times, August 31, 1940, page 2.
[30] TWEDDLE: op. cit. p 182.

Bibliography:

  • Bowman, Martin. Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2015.
  • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT. The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939 - 1945 - The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Frank Cass, 1998.
  • Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin, 1949.
  • Frankland, Noble. Bomber Offensive - The Devastation of Europe. Ballantine Books, 1970.
  • Materna, Horst. Die Geschichte der Henschel Flugzeug-Werke A.G. in Schönefeld bei Berlin 1933 bis 1945. Rockstuhl Verlag, 2010.
  • No. 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron Royal Air Force <https://www.214squadron.org.uk/>
  • Oud Zelhem. The story behind the British war graves in Halle (NL) The WellingtonT2559. <https://oudzelhem.eu/index.php/2e-wereldoorlog/wereldoorlog-2e/32-wereldoorlog-2e/2e-wereldoorlog/verhalen-2e-wereldoorlog/881-britse-oorlogsgraven-in-halle-english>
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982. 
  • Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2009.
  • Williston, Floyd.Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many who Failed to Return. GSPH, 1996.
  • Young, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991.

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