Four in a row: 31 August 1940

R.A.F. planes renew attack on Berlin…

…Sirens Sound in Capital After Heavy Bombing of Previous Night.’ 

– The New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940 –

[Photo: Fotosearch/Getty Images.]

Following the attacks made on three previous nights, the British air bombing offensive didn’t stop: on the last night of the month (31 August / 1 September) Berlin, Cologne and several airfields in Holland were the target for 77 RAF Blenheim light bombers and Hampden, Wellington and Whitley medium bombers.

Bad weather prevented some of the bombers to reach their targets, in this case Tempelhof, the BMW factory and a gas work; most of the crews were somewhere on the Berlin area but failed to see under the cloud cover. This would be the fourth bombing raid in five nights against the Reich’s heartland, following the previous attack made the night before which, as we see on the previous post hit Kreuzberg district again with some bombs hitting and for the first time some bombs reached the large Siemensstadt industrial area.[1] This new attack, aimed to keep the pressure on Hitler’s home and ordered by Churchill and the War Cabinet, has been normally forgotten by aviation historians or mainly confused with the previous one, few studies separate one from the other as two different bombardments. 

Documentary evidence, in this case each squadron operational records (ORBs), reveals that London finally sent twenty-eight medium bombers to the German capital tasked to attack industrial targets, although the partial description of that night on the different squadrons’ logs makes it difficult to know the exact number of planes of those despatched that managed to reach Berlin, but roughly this figure reaches the twenties.[2].

Bomber Command’s operational handbook (Middlebrook, 1985) as usual was a reference to set the overall figure of the night operations: 77 Blenheims, Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys attacked Berlin, Cologne and airfields in Holland and Belgium. 1 Hampden lost.[3] Author Paul Tweddle, in his Bomber Command summer of 1940 chronicle, describes some of the actions of this night highlighting that Command’s main thrust was again made towards Berlin” and includes an oral testimony but does not mention the number of aircraft involved.[4] Most of the authors, like Bowman just mentioned this raid to narrate the exciting return flight of F/O Romans and his crew who ditched their Hampden bomber after running out of gas over the North Sea.[5] Donnelly, as usual, gives us a more detailed breakdown of the bombers’ night sorties including some of the targets and the fate of RAF crews lost on the operation although it does not specify neither the exact number of aircraft sent.[6] 

On the other hand, the extensive German study of the air bombings on Berlin city, led by Dr Laurenz Demp listed the number of attacking planes to just eleven.[7] 

[Family portrait of 144 Squadron aircrews in front of one of their Hampden bombers in the summer of 1940 at RAF Hemswell.][8]

Photo: IBCC Digital Archive. https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/27259

Bomber Command operation involved two of its ‘medium’ bombers groups, in this case Nos 3 and 5. This time, the Whitley force from 4 Group was sent to other targets in Occupied Europe. 

In the early afternoon the headquarters of 3 Group sent via teleprint Order Form B.256 to its squadrons ordering To cause maximum damage to targets given in para. ‘G’ and to create maximum disturbance over GERMANY during the hours of darkness.[9] The Wellington-equipped squadrons would be despatched to attack Tempelhof Flughafen A385 (9 sorties) and the Schönefeld aerodrome and aircraft factory (9 sorties), with gasworks (B59) and marshalling yards (M499) as alternative targets at the Reich capital. Of interest that the HQ order precised that “As many sorties as possible detailed to attack A.389 and F.24 should be loaded with 2,000 lbs of bombs.”[10] Some others were sent to destroy targets in Hamm, Schwerte and Soest.

Photo: TNA AIR-27-894_2 © Crown Copyright.

Meanwhile, No 5 Group led by Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Arthur Harris and equipped with Handley Page Hampdens, addressed Order Form B.208[11] to its Waddington, Hemswell, Scampton and Lindholme stations. The operation planned that six bombers from Waddington (No 44 Squadron) bombed hangars and buildings at Tempelhof (H324) listing the marshaling yards (M.499) and oil storage of the aerodrome as secondary objectives. The Group’s order noted that ”the most important buildings at H.324 are on the North and East side of the Aerodrome.” [12] and required photographs of the target. These bombers would carried 250-lb GP bombs with different delay fuzes and four canisters of incendiaries.[13]

Photo: TNA AIR-27-453 © Crown Copyright.

The Hemswell squadrons (61 and 144 Sqn) for their part received orders to sent nine bombers to destroy the B.M.W. aeroengine factory in Berlin-Spandau, very close to Siemensstadt and coded as target F.118. In the case they didn’t find it, alternative target was G.161 the Siemens & Halske works. Some of the bombers carried 500-lb GP bombs and some others a mix of those with the smaller 250 ‘pounders’.[14] Another 15 bombers of the Group would visit on this night an oil refinery at Magdeburg.

[The red-brick factory halls of the BMW Flugmotorenbau Berlin-Spandau, located in am Juliusturm 14-38 Zitadellenweg, where today the Bavarian company still builts motorcycles. These buildings housed the Brandenburgische Motorenwerke GmbH (BRAMO) plant until 1939, when BMW purchased Bramo (a former subsidiary of Siemens Halske) and its air-cooled aircraft engines production. Between 1937 and 1944 this plant built together with the larger Basdorf and Zühlsdorf BMW plants, in Berlin too more than 5,500 units of aero-engines such as the Bramo 323 “Fafnir” or the similar BMW 132.]

Photo: BMW Group Archiv.

Photo: Histomap/©Landesarchiv Berlin.

Attack on aerodrome and industrial targets
At RAF Marham station in Norfolk, the two units based there prepared the incoming sortie and briefed their crews. Just before dusk, twelve Vickers Wellingtons from No 115 Squadron took off starting from 20.20hrs at intervals and nine of them bound for Berlin to attack the Henschel-Schönefeld aircraft factory. The squadron’s log described weather conditions as “very bad” and low visibility due to ground haze and waving searchlights, which made that main target was not found by the bombing crews. One of the bombers claimed to have attacked the Tegel gasworks and another Stendal and Tegel aerodromes, meanwhile the remaining aircraft attacked alternative targets in Hamm and Soest. Two crews returned with their bombs to Marham.[15]

Photo: Friends of the Royal Air Force 115 Squadron.

Sharing the station’s grass was 38 Squadron, which contributed with twelve more ‘Wimpys’ to the night’s operations. Led by Sqn Leader Gosnell (in A9250) nine of the bombers flew to the German capital where they found ground haze which was described as very thick at times. Some crews claimed to have bombed Tempelhof but no results were seen, with one crew reporting a tremendous explosion seen from cover of cloud after attack target A.385. By 04.20hrs all the aircraft had returned to their base safely.[16] R.J.P. Warren, a navigator/bomb aimer of the squadron recalled the sortie: ‘There was ten-tenths cloud over that part of Germany so, because we were not allowed to bomb unseen, we started to bring the bombs back home. Unfortunately, having spent some time searching for the target, we were running a little low on fuel so the skipper decided to drop the bombs in the North Sea.[17]

[Armourers load a 250-lb GP bomb into the bomb bay of a Wellington of No 3 (Bomber) Group at Wick.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 109).

Photo: © IWM (CH 109).

Meanwhile, 5 Group squadrons bombed up their aircraft too: at RAF Waddington in Lancashire No 44 Squadron five Hampden bombers took off from 20.05 hrs and bounded for Berlin with three of the crews claiming to have bombed targets H.324 and A.389 in Tempelhof, dropping several 250-lb bombs and incendiaries. The fifth bomber dropped bombs on a marshalling yard (M.499) and observed three bursts in the target area.[18]

At Hemswell, 61 Squadron for his part put up five more Hampdens which were to attack the BMW aero engine factory.[19] In spite of the bad weather encountered, four crews reached Spandau and claimed to drop bombs on the target without observe the results. The remaining bomber returned to base early with inter-communication trouble.[20]

Parked next to 61 Sqn, four aircraft of 144 Squadron took part on this raid too but low cloud encountered and the intense AA fire barrage over the German capital prevented the crews to find their targets; one of them bombed an aerodrome near Wonstorf, a few miles from Hannover during the return flight.[21] 

[Hampden bomber crews of No. 61 Squadron at Hemswell putting on flying kit before a night bombing sortie over Germany.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 104630).

[A Handley Page Hampden bomber of 61 Squadron prepares to take off on a night raid from RAF Hemswell.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 104631).

A perfect pancake landing
RAF’s only loss on this raid was Hampden P2123 of 44 Squadron: piloted by twenty-year-old Flying Officer Romans, this bomber found adverse weather over Berlin and after delivery the bombs on Tempelhof area the crew faced the return journey running out of fuel over the inhospitable North Sea. Finally, after being airborne for 9 and 30 minutes the engines stopped and Romans skilfully ditched the plane less than two miles off Salthouse others say Cromer on the Norfolk coast at 05.35 hours and the crew, unhurt, took to their dinghy and paddle to shore during more than 3 hours to safety.[22] 

[A fine portrait of F/O David Albert A Romans (DFC) and Corporal Harry Logan (W/Op) of No 44 Squadron from Waddington. Romans, a Canadian who joined the RAF was the pilot at the controls of the Hampden bomber lost (P2123) during the return flight from Berlin after bombing the city on the night of 31 August. The rest of the crew was formed by navigator P/O Donald E Stewart (a Canadian too) and Cpl Jimmy Mandale as Air gunner.]

Photo: Williston, GSPH, 1996.

[Cpl Jimmy Mandale (middle) of 44 Sqn poses with two RAF comrades. He was flying as air gunner on Hampden P2123 on this night. Mandale’s logbook, preserved by his grandson Mark, shows that night they had been 9 hours and a half on the air for the Berlin operation.]

Photo: Williston, GSPH, 1996.

Berlin Battered 3 Hours
Following the attack, the Air Ministry statement in London announced that the raid, aimed at “selected military targets” in the Berlin area battered aircraft factories, electric power stations and airports of the Nazi capital with explosions and fires that did “considerable damage”.[23] 

Actually, this was mostly an ineffective raid, the German capital was obscured by clouds and the adverse weather conditions made almost impossible to British aircrews to get any landmark on route to the target, forcing them to a dead reckoning navigation and to bomb relying on their estimated time of arrival (ETA), which resulted in a poor bombing pattern and several crews overflying the capital without drop their bombs. 61 squadron log sums up this: “Weather conditions were bad. 10/10 clouds down to 2000’ made it impossible for pilots to pin-point with accuracy. Those who bombed the target found breaks in cloud but only made approximate positions over the target area.[24] Returning crews reported also that the anti-aircraft fire over the city was intense but generally below the height of the aircraft.[25]

As on previous raids, bad weather forced them too to spent considerable time trying to locate the objectives. Targets such Berlin or Stettin in Poland were at the very limit of the Hampden’s range, where severe headwind or minimal navigation error could make force landing on the return flight as happened with Romans’ bomber loss. 

[Luftwaffe’s air assault on England: a formation of Dornier Do 17Z bombers in flight on their way to ‘blitz’ some English target during an August 1940 summer raid. Ironically, this German medium bomber was powered by two Bramo (BMW) 323 radial engines built in factories located in Berlin.]

Photo: Bild 101I-342-0603-25.

In the meantime, air sirens sounded in London but the real target of the night was further northwest, more than 150 Luftwaffe bombers hit the Merseyside area including Liverpool and Birkenhead where thousands of incendiaries were dropped in a six-hour raid.[26] Some chronicles related the Berlin raid as a retaliatory attack but RAF officers stated that this was part of “one phase of a tireless mass offensive”.[27]

[Bomb damage in Liverpool: an air raid shelter which withstood the strain of a tall building which fell upon it, September 1st, 1940.]

Photo: liverpool.echo.

Our next post will cover the German reports and the consequences of this fourth raid on Berlin by British bombers. This attack was a small air strike which caused a minimum damage on the Reich capital but it was one step more in the bombing campaign started in this early stage of the war.

_______________

Notes:

[1] see Berlin Luftterror, RAF’s third raid on Berlin <https://www.berlinluftterror.com/blog/30-august-1940-raid>
[2] The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record Books: AIR 27. © Crown Copyright.
[3] MIDDLEBROOK, Martin and EVERETT, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014 Ed, p 78.
[4] TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, pp 183-5.
[5] BOWMAN, Martin. Bomber Command. Cover of Darkness 1939 - May 1942. Volume: 1. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2011, p 70.
[6] 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 122.
[7] DEMPS, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 238.
[8] https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/27259 “144 Squadron at RAF Hemswell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 30, 2022.
[9] see TNA AIR-27-894_2.
[10] ibid.
[11] see TNA AIR-27-453.
[12] ibid.
[13] see TNA AIR 27-453 and AIR-27-447-22.
[14] see TNA AIR-27-453.
[15] see TNA AIR-27-887-20.
[16] see TNA AIR-27-397-20.
[17] quoted in TWEDDLEop. cit. p 184.
[18] see TNA AIR-27-447-22.
[19] see TNA AIR-27-576-20.
[20] see TNA AIR-27-980-18.
[21] see TNA AIR-27-980-20.
[22] CHORLEYWR. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition, 2013, p 196; see TNA AIR-27-447-22; BOWMANop. cit. p 70. Romans had take part on the three raids over Berlin made by 44 Sqn during that month with different crews, only to be killed on 8 September 1941 over Norway in a B-17 Fortress Mk. I of No 90 Sqn sent to bomb the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, one of the first Flying Fortresses downed over Europe during WW2; see also DONNELLYop. cit. p 122; TWEDDLEop. cit. pp 184-5.
[23] The New York Times, September 1, 1940, page 2.
[24] see TNA AIR-27-576-20; TWEDDLEop. cit. p 184.
[25] see TNA AIR-27-576-20.
[26] Battle of Britain Historical Society website. The Chronology: page-31. Friday August 30th - Saturday August 31st1940. <https://www.battleofbritain1940.net/0031.html> Raymond Daniell to The New York Times, September 1, 1940, page 1.
[27] James MacDonald to The New York Times, September 1, 1940, page 1.

Bibliography:

  • 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.
  • Materna, Horst. Die Geschichte der Henschel Flugzeug-Werke A.G. in Schönefeld bei Berlin 1933 bis 1945. Rockstuhl Verlag, 2010.
  • Spandau Siemensstadt. Berliner Industriekultur – Die Metropole neu entdecken. Berliner Schriften zur Industriekultur, Hg. Berliner Zentrum Industriekultur, Band 1, 2021.
  • 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. 5 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2007.
  • 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 ReturnGSPH, 1996.
  • Young, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991.

_______________
Previous post >

Using Format