Bombensturm! (Part III)June 12, 2018
[Armourers from No 97 Squadron preparing MC-bombs on their trolleys to be loaded onto a Lancaster bomber on July 1943 at RAF Waddington.]
The limited and inadequate arsenal of bombs composed of the high explosive GP (general purpose) bombs (10-15% detonation failure rate) made British Bomber Command to develop a new range of explosives: these weapons were the Medium Capacity (MC) Bombs, which had improved metal to explosive ratios and also proved more reliability and generally exploded on impact, unless fitted with delayed action fuses. Basically, higher explosive into lighter cases to obtain a greater blast.
The analysis of the destruction inflicted by Luftwaffe’s bombers over Britain, particularly by the Germans’ SC (Spreng Cylindrische) series of bombs (usually filled with a mixture of 40% amatol and 60% TNT), with their higher charge to weight ratios and destructive power, marked the new requirement.
[This is a German SC 2500 ‘Max’ bomb (5,000-lb/2,300 kg), the biggest one of this series, ready to be loaded in a Heinkel He 111H-5 medium bomber at a Luftwaffe airfield during the final phase of the Battle of Britain in 1940. Due to its massive size, this weapon had to be carried externally attached to a reinforced ETC2000 bomb rack.]
The first bombs dropped on an air raid were high explosive bombs, to shook the people and lead the way to the incendiaries, the actual fuse of the destruction into the streets. Vast swaths of fire engulfed the town, and then the RAF attacked again with their MC-bombs, a last punch of destruction to spread fire and keep firefighters away and to avoid wardens and police officers to drawn out and assist the city and their people. The roads and streets, and water pumps were destroyed and harassed by craters and blows, incapacitating the workforce.
[This crater was made by an explosive bomb dropped by Bomber Command into downtown Berlin in October 1940.]
The 500-lbs MC (227 kg) bomb was first introduced in to the Command’s inventory at the end of 1941, the bomb contained twice as much explosive of Amatol than its GP equivalent and became a mainstay for bombing operations due to its much greater blast effect. As the war progressed, the Air Ministry scientific advisors and experiments made by Solly Zuckerman (a scientific advisor to the Allies on bombing strategy) found that blast effect rather than penetrative power was more important in destroying buildings.
[Men from No 77 Squadron, based at RAF Elvington look on as the message ‘we hope this hurts’ is chalked onto a 500-lb MC bomb prior to their fourth attack, on Berlin on 30 January 1944.]
However, they still lacked aluminized explosive like German bombs, which would have rise the effect more than three times. By March 1943, 19 firms were producing bomb bodies nearly at 18,000 a month and the MC bombs formed the main bulk of destruction tonnage dropped by Bomber Command on Germany, with the heavy 1,000-lb version being introduced in the spring of 1943 as a very effective weapon and about a quarter of a million were produced by the end of the war. It became the standard British bomb.
[Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito B IV, DZ483 ‘GB-R’, of No 105 Squadron RAF at Marham, Norfolk, in preparation for a night raid on Berlin by aircraft of No 2 Group in 1942-43. At this time, Mosquitoes, flying alone in the dark, usually carried a bomb load consisted of four 500 MC, an explosive ‘present’ sent just to disrupt and keep the head of the enemy down.]
[British ‘1000-pounders’, MC bombs, await in their trolleys to be loaded into this No 76 Squadron Rolls Royce Merlin-engined Halifax heavy bomber, W7805/’MP-M’, being bombed-up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire on 3 April 1943. This bomber failed to return to England that night, during the bombing of Essen, one of the 24 aircraft lost. W7805 was probably hit by Flak, four men of her crew perished on the crash.]
[..and the sight after being loaded in the bomb-bay. Here, we can see the usual load for industrial demolition, factories, railyards, dockyards (know as ‘Abnormal’), loaded in the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster of No 9 Squadron RAF at Bardney, Lincolnshire, before a night raid on Stettin. ‘Abnormal’ consisted of 14 x 1,000-lb MC high-explosive bombs. When RAF Bomber Command bombed Berlin the target wasn’t her factories, the aim was to destroy the city and the people’s morale, so only a few part of the attacking force carried this type of load during those raids, mainly some of the Pathfinders and the last squadrons to be scheduled over the target, with a mix of instantaneous (nose-armed) and long-delay (tail-armed) fusing-bombs.]
The explosive bombs shook everything around and fill the target with destruction, noise and dust into the streets. It is estimated that during the attacks on the Hauptstadt during the Winter 1943-44 by British Bomber Command, 9,390 Berliners civilians were killed. The city resisted and their defences inflicted a severe blow to the enemy campaign, but moral fell to a minimum.
[A shocked but alive family is helped by a young member of the Luftwaffe through the rubble on a street in Berlin from a demolished building, following Allied air raids during 1944.]
During the war 758,408 tons of high explosive were despatched on Bomber Command aircraft, and would drop some 253,800 1,000-lb MC bombs along with 403,000 500-pounders.
The research done by the USSBS (The United States Strategic Bombing Survey) and John Fahey’s paper indicate that on average, it cost the British Government £1.00 per 23.4-lb of HE bomb weight purchased. At this price, the total value of high explosive bombs despatched to targets by Bomber Command during the strategic air offensive was £72,599,749, but it is important to indicate that these figures were just the guesses of economic experts, due to the impossibility of getting reliable information.
This table shows, by type, the number of MC bombs dropped by RAF Bomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
- Air Ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
- The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
- Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
- Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
- Bowman, Martin W. Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
- Boyd, David. 1000lb Medium Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
- Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
- Fahey, John. Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney. 2004.
- Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
- Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
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- The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.