August 1940

‘Ten killed in Berlin raid’. ‘Berlin gets a taste of bombs…

…British bombers took a toll of ten killed and about thirty wounded in a workers´ section less than two miles from the Government offices in Wilhelmstraße. All the casualties were civilians. Preliminary reports gave no word of death or injury to soldiers.’ 

  – The Sun, New York newspaper, Thursday, August 29, 1940 –

[Photo: John Frost Newspapers / Alamy.]

As we have seen, the first bombing of Berlin made by British forces was an initial response to the German attacks on London, and it served to distress Luftwaffe offensive against the RAF’s Fighter Command in August, resulting in the climax of the Battle of Britain on the next month.

During this early phase and the autumn period, Berlin would be regularly included in routine raids, the number of aircraft sent by London was usually small and normal targets for this period of the war -power stations, railway stations, etc.- were chosen for attack, but poor bombing pattern and thick cloud made bombers to drop bombs on residential areas.

[Two views of a destroyed roof in a residential building after receive a bomb-hit near Skalitzer Straße during the RAF raid on 28/29 August 1940.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann / Getty images.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann / Getty images.]

‘Three-hour raid on Berlin’

On the night of August 28th the RAF raided for the second time the Nazi-capital. British records show that 79 bombers were sent to bomb Berlin and five other targets in Germany including aircraft from Nos 38 and 115 Squadrons, their first time over the city. Targets were again Klingenberg power station for the Wellington force (20 aircraft) and Tempelhof aerodrome, meanwhile the Hampden force was sent to attack Siemensstadt factory near Berlin Spandau, but as we gonna see their payload hit a very different target. Their bombs were dropped over the southern suburb of Kreuzberg, a very populated residential area, maybe due to near location from Tempelhof and a consequence of thick cloud and  darkness. At this early stage of the war, British bombers lacked any navigation aids or useful bombsights at night. Of course, crews fear from German Flak anti-aircraft fire, searchlights and the long distance journey to home made some of them to drop bombs anywhere. RAF crews who where sent that very night recognize years after the war that blackness made very hard to know where they were. 

In this extract from “Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943” (Bowman, M. 2016), Sqn Leader Patrick Foss (No 115 Sqn) remembers the raid: ‘This was the longest trip we had ever attempted in the Wellington, close to our maximum range with full tanks and minimum bomb load. We set off for Berlin with half a gale blowing from the west, low and middle cloud and murk on the ground. We had failed to get any fixes on the rote and the weather was heavy cloud and total blackness. We glimpsed below us lakes and forest, but never a light or other indication of a city. There was nothing worth bombing and no time for a search. We turned for home and began to plug back against the gale. We landed at Marham with less than thirty minutes of fuel remaining after eight and a half hours in the air. Our other crews returned with similar stories. No one was sure he had hit Berlin. We hoped other stations had had more luck.’

[SD and Gestapo officers inspecting some damage caused by the second RAF Bomber Command air-attack of the war on the Nazi-capital. Shortly after midnight on 28/29 August 1940, British planes appeared again over Berlin dropping their deadly payloads on Kreuzberg suburb.]

[Photo: Keystone-France Gamma / Getty images.]

When the bombers arrived normality reigns. A Swedish newspaper correspondent reported that Berliners had only taken the raid seriously when anti-aircraft batteries fired back, and went to the shelters, as many had believed the official Nazi-propaganda that no enemy plane would overfly and attack the mighty capital.

The area around Kottbusser straße, Skalitzer straße and Görlitzer Bahnhof was the worst hit. Several sticks of bombs caused chaos and large fires there, and flying debris shattered the streets, hitting everything around. Ten Berliners lost their lives and about 30 were injured, with two more dying in the following days of their injuries. The official Wehrmacht record on the next day, summed up the events: ‘In the night, British aircraft systematically attacked residential areas of the Reich capital. High explosive bombs and incendiaries brought death and injury to numerous civilians and properties sustained roof fires and damage.’  Nazi propaganda highlighted the terrible fact that Berlin had suffered its first civilian deaths from the bombing war. Over 900 were rendered homeless by the raid according to city official records. Many of them congregated beneath the highway U-bahn line at Skalitzer straße, or else made their way to a local school, where a makeshift soup kitchen and first-aid station had been stablished. It was a new situation to local authorities and ration cards had to be distributed. German press denounced that RAF has attacked residential areas and killed ‘women and children’

[German workers cleaning the debris where a high-explosive bomb hit in the middle of a street, twisting and buckling the tram lines.]

[Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann / Getty images.]

[Cleanup work in an apartment of the house Kottbusser straße 16, which was destroyed by incendiary bombs during the air raid suffered that night. The M-34 helmet with black swastika on red shield decal on right side identifies him as a policeman, in this case a Feuerschutzpolizei.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L08521A].

Many bombs landed, due to thick cloud, on several farms owed by the city in the western outskirts and country areas and quickly the famous Berlin sense of humor came to the rescue: ‘Now they are trying to starve us out’, but the actual situation was the alarm and anxiety for Berliners, after they had lived the destruction of aerial bombing.

[Destruction at Berlin Kreuzberg: a burnt out roof after the RAF air-raid on 28/29 August 1940.]

[Photo: Still from film. Cities At War - Berlin: The Doomed City Timeline © Little Dot Studios Ltd. 2019.]

[Another view of a damaged block of flats in Berlin Kreuzberg, this time at Alexandrinenstraße. Flames engulfed the building after being hit by a stick of incendiary small bombs dropped during the Royal Air Force raid on 28/29 August 1940.]

[Photo by UMBO / Published by ‘Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung.]

[Schäden nach Luftangriff: Berliner Feuerwehr firemen during clearing work in a four-storey residential block at Wassertorstraße 37 (near U-Bahnhof Prinzenstraße), hit by RAF explosive bombs on the night of 28/29 August.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L08580.]

The British lost 1 bomber on this raid, a Hampden bomber of 83 Squadron (serial X2897) from Scampton.

[This is the crew of Hampden X2897 safely on board a trawler after ditching in the North Sea on return from bombing Berlin, the only loss in this raid. They had been in the air for nearly nine hours on 28/29 August 1940 when on their return flight to Britain they run out of fuel. The capital was the main target for the Hampdens that night, with fourteen crews attacking Siemens & Halske factories and an oil reservoir. From left to right: Flying Officer Watson, Flying Officer Stannion, Flight Lieutenant Pitcairn-Hill DSO (pilot) and Sergeant Byrne.]

[Photo: Donnelly, 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.]

Two scenes captured in original colour after the 28/29 August 1940 British raid in Berlin, with a damaged building at Kottbusser Straße number 16 (at left) in Kreuzberg district.

[Photos: AKG-images AKG5438572/3.]

On Friday 30th August afternoon, Bomber Command men were briefed again to raid Berlin with 29 Wellington bombers from No 3 Group and 8 Hampdens ready to take off to bomb the city that night. Prime targets were again the Siemens factory complex and the Henschel factory in Schönefeld; with several others squadrons attacking other cities including Hamm and Emden. Nine crews claimed to have bombed the Siemens works and four Henschel, with another bomber attacking a power station at Klingenberg. Like previous raids, many sticks of bombs hit residential areas all over the city, damaging house buildings and streets.

The Air Ministry communique about the raid on Germany states: “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.”

The British lost 3 aircraft on this Berlin sortie: one was a Whitley, a bomber from No 58 Squadron P5002 coded ‘GE-T’. The aircraft left RAF Linton-on-Ouse at 19.45 hrs. 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. A crew member was killed while all four other occupants were rescued (P/O Ronald Hadley, Sgt Ian A Zamek, R F Williams and Sgt Matthew Hill).

Two Wellingtons of this force were lost too, both of them 214 Squadron machines: Wellington Mark IA P2530 coded BU-? took from from RAF Stradishall piloted by F/O RR O’Connor (rest of the crew was omitted from the squadron’s ORB) tasked for Berlin and when returned to base, low on fuel, undershot into a ditch short of the runway. The other one was Wellington IA T2559 BU-?, which flew to Berlin to raid the Siemens but was shot down at 23.24 near Halle (Gelderland), the Netherlands, by night fighter pilot Oberleutnant Werner Streib of 2./NJG 1, who was flying a Bf 110 from Anholt airfield, Germany. This was the first German ground-radar tracked victory at night, led by a ‘Wurzburg’ radar in Raum 5B based at Deurne. The ‘Wimpy’ was coned 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.

The crew of six perished in the crash (Sgt. G H Bainbridge, F/O L M Cragie-Halkett, P/O W S Cunynghame, Sgt. S J Haldane, Sgt. G E Merryweather and Sgt. A B Puzey) and were all buried at Halle Cemetery, the Netherlands. The story behind the loss of T2559 has been well researched by Bennie Eenink.

[Vickers Wellington Mark IC, T2470BU-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. Known among the squadron crews as ‘K-King’ this ‘Wimpy’ were very active during the late summer over Berlin. During their war service with Wellingtons, 214 Sqn made 1,532 sorties and lost 45 of them.]

[Photo: Bertrand John Henry Daventry. IWM © (CH 1415).]

[The tenant of this apartment in a residential building looks at the hole in the ceiling and the partially loosened lamp, some minor damage caused by an explosive bomb dropped by British bombers during a bombing raid on the previous night on Berlin Kreuzberg.]

[Photo: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy.]

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Sources and Bibliography:

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