26 million of German people lost their homes during the war, just in Berlin 600,000 apartments were destroyed, half of all houses were damaged and around a third uninhabitable, as much as 16 km² of the city was simply rubble. When the war came to an end in May 1945, the ‘Big City’ had become a sea of destruction, death and debris. One of the biggest players in this panorama were the ‘Cookies’, or British HC-bombs.
[July 1945, work made by ‘Blockbusters’ and incendiaries: the total absence of roofs seen in this aerial view of the bombed-out Nollendorfkiez district after the war shows clearly the devastating effects of the Allied weapons on the German capital, maximized by these bombs explosion in built-up areas which obtain a huge ‘blast-effect’. Later, incendiaries burnt out everything around, it was the perfect ‘fire-storm’ created by RAF Bomber Command during fall 1943 and expanded in 1945 by USAAF raids.]
[Another aerial view of bombed-out Schöneberg and Nollendorfkiez districts in Berlin. In this case Lützowplatz is shown looking south. This oblique shot and the previous one were taken by William Vandivert, famous American photographer and co-founder of Magnum Photos agency in 1947. In July 1945 he was the first Western photojournalist to photograph the ruined and defeated Nazi-Berlin and his photos were published in LIFE magazine.]
As we have seen before, ‘Blockbuster’ bombs or High Capacity-bombs were first used on the night of 31 March/1 April 1941 in an attack on Emden when six Wellington of RAF No 149 Squadron were dispatched to drop them.
[Vertical aerial photograph taken from Vickers Wellington Mark II, W5439 ‘OJ-X’, of No 149 Sqn during a night raid on Emden, showing fires and smoke rising from explosions in the town, 31 March/ 1 April 1941. Two Wellingtons were modified to carry 4,000-lb HC blast-bombs that night.]
These bombs were larger than any previously dropped by RAF Bomber Command, but can be used by medium bombers on service, namely the Vickers Wellington. The introduction of the new four-engined heavy bombers during 1941-42 (Halifaxes and Lancasters, as the big Short Stirling was unable to carry these dustbin-shaped weapons) just added even more tonnage of bombs carried on every trip to Germany.
First appearance of these huge weapons against the Reich’s capital was in September-November 1941 during the final raids of the first phase of RAF’s offensive against Berlin. After a November 1941 raid, aerial reconnaissance showed a large area in the Lichtenberg district totally disintegrated. In one of those attacks, one ‘blockbuster’ dropped in the Nordhaven sector killed twenty people on the street and many more in cellars by the effect of the blast. Mass use of HCs on Berlin had to wait nearly two years, on the night 1/2 March 1943, the worst raid suffered by the city during the first part of the war, and testimonies from Berliners reported huge fires never experienced before that night. One eyewitness experienced the blast of one of those weapons that night in the south-western suburbs: ‘a powerful, thunderous explosion…with a pressure wave that I had never experienced before, and which made me feel as a tiny ant (…)’ (Moorhouse, 2011.)
Also, the psychological effect of these weapons was tremendous, as we can read in this extract from RAF night operations (Bowman, M. 2015.): (…) “When it exploded [these HC-bombs],’masses of debris’ said the official comunniqué, ‘flying through the air were outlined against the glow of fires and the results appeared to be devastating. Houses took to the air’ said the pilot who dropped it (…). In November 1941 there were reports of the terrible effects of these bombs in Berlin and of the fear they inspired; when one dropped in the Nordhaven district twenty people were found dead in the street and many people actually sheltering in cellar were killed by the effect of the blast alone”.
[Berlin 1944: A high explosive bomb, probably an RAF ‘Cookie’ has collapsed the flats in the foreground and the blast has stripped the tiles of the surrounding roofs; this is the ‘blockbuster’ aim, to aid in the penetration and ignition of the incendiaries’ wave.]
The lethality of the ‘Blockbusters’ was well-known and very popular at the time. The efficiency of the new bombs was showed by many photographic reconnaissance missions, evidencing devastated areas and completely demolished buildings.
[HM King George VI (third from right) and Queen Elizabeth inspect how armourers fit a ‘Cookie’ into the bomb-bay of a British heavy bomber in a visit to RAF Witchford airbase in February 1944. TARGET: Germany.]
HC-bombs were usually dropped by the bombers comprising the initial waves of the attack, as they had to “make room” for the incendiary devices carried by the following bomber stream. British typical bomb-load for an ‘area-target’ bomber consisted of a 4,000-lb HC and 12 SBCs, these ones containing 2,832 4-lb incendiary bombs.
[This 4,000-lb ‘Cookie’ being manoeuvred into the bomb-bay wears an strike and self-explanatory message. The Lancaster bomber seen behind, W4198 ‘QR-H’ of RAF No 61 Sqn, was lost on her 75th mission (note bomb tally painted next to the nose art, 71 recorded) flying to bomb Berlin, on 26/27 November 1943, one of the 28 Lancasters failing to return of the 443 dispatched that night. Plt Off A J Eaves and his six-man crew were killed in the crash.]
During the ‘Battle of Berlin’ (August 1943 – March 1944) RAF Bomber Command dropped 6,811 of the 4,000-pounder version and 53 of the even larger 8,000-pounders ‘blockbusters’, in 19 major raids on the capital.
Some sources say that 500 people were killed when a 4,000 ‘pounder’ hit a public shelter in the basement of the Joachimstal Schule on 22 November 1943. The psychological effect and lethality of the ‘Blockbusters’ reached even their ‘droppers’: this is an extract from the memories of Sergeant O Roberts (Prisoner of War), a British gunner in No 49 Sqn shot down over Berlin on the night of 2/3 December 1943: “(…) I stayed in this hospital [the Hermann Göring Luftwaffe Hospital at Unter den Linden] for a further two weeks, and was there on the night of 16 December when Bomber Command paid another visit to Berlin. The sirens sounded and I was taken to the air-raid shelter with the other patients. I was sitting on a bunk bed in the shelter when a ‘Cookie’ dropped outside. It didn’t whistle; it rattled on the way down and shook all the building when it exploded.”
First use of those larger versions of the blast-bomb on or near Berlin was during this campaign, on the night of 2/3 December 1943 when six 8,000-pounders were dropped, carried in the extra-large bomb-bays of the Lancasters Mk II of No 115 Squadron.
[This Mark II DS689/’OW-S’, equipped with Bristol Hercules radial air-cooled engines and bulged bomb-bay doors to carry the large ‘Super-cookies’, flied with RCAF No 426 Sqn several missions over Berlin until it was lost during a raid on Stuttgart on 7/8 December 1943.]
[February 1944. Effects of an 8,000-lb ‘Super-cookie’ bomb dropped in a Berlin suburb during one of RAF Bomber Command’s attacks. This photograph, taken by No 106 (PR) Wing RAF a month after the bomb was dropped, shows the bombed site after considerable clearances. The ends of damaged buildings have been squared off and the crater surface levelled over. The visible area of destruction extends to approximately 14 acres over which buildings are seen to have been damaged by blast, as revealed by re-roofing and repairs.]
Another one of RAF’s ‘Cookies’ main droppers on Berlin was the De Havilland Mosquito, the twin-engined bomber flying alone in the dark to deliver the bomb thanks to her fast-flying and to be equipped with navigation and radar aids. It was used during the first raids as a spearhead of the main bombing force, and later, from March 1944 when BC campaign was over, acting as a ‘solo’ over the ‘Big City’. It could be said that every night from then until the end of the war at least one blast-bomb was released on the capital by a Mosquito, a true nightmare for Berliners.
First time for a Mosquito raid was on February 23/24th 1944, when a No 692 aircraft dropped one during the Dusseldorf raid, and ‘Cookies’ were dropped for the first time on Berlin on 13/14 April, again by a 692 Sqn crew. This squadron was part of the Light Night Striking Force of No 8 (PFF) Group [the Pathfinders], which specialized in these fast, high-flying night raids on Berlin during 1944-45. The specially-modified Mosquitoes were fitted with bulged bomb-bays and more powerful engines in order to accommodate the large ‘Cookies’. Each aircraft carried two 50-gallon drop tanks and a 4,000-lb bomb. Its crews dubbed these missions the ‘Berlin Express’.
[Armourers wheel a 4,000 ‘pounder’ for loading into a black-painted De Havilland Mosquito B IV (modified) of No 692 Squadron RAF at Graveley, Huntingdonshire.]
[Here we see another 692 Sqn Mosquito at RAF Graveley, showing the bulged bomb-bay, fitted to accommodate the 4,000-lb HC bomb, in preparation for a raid to the Reich’s capital. This aircraft was subsequently flown that night to Berlin by Canadians Flt Lts Andy Lockhart and Ralph Wood (navigator), one of the 18 trips to the city completed by this pair during the war.]
The legacy of these bombs in Germany is tangible yet. Today, we can see the remains of a 4,000-lb bomb with part of its steel case, on display at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, Inventarnr. W 91/6.
As we can see in this image, taken in 2011 in Koblenz, British 4,000-lb ‘Blockbusters’ are still a truly live-danger nowadays for German people. In the second one, taken in 2017, about 60,000 people were ordered to leave in what was Germany’s biggest evacuation since the war because of an unexploded ‘Cookie’ was discovered in Frankfurt.
Sources and Bibliography:
- Airminded. Airpower and British society, 1908-1941. The first Blockbuster. <https://airminded.org/2012/11/14/the-first-blockbuster/>
- 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. Mosquito Bomber/Fighter-Bomber Units 1942–45. Combat Aircraft. Osprey Publishing. 2013.
- 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. 4000lb High 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.
- Johnson, George. The last British Dambuster: one man’s extraordinary life and the raids that changed history. Ebury Press. 2014.
- Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.
- Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
- Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
- Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
- The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.
- Worral, Richard. (2019). BATTLE OF BERLIN 1943–44. Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Osprey Publishing.