‘Our numbers were small and there is no claim that much damage…
resulted from our bombing but it’s very likely these raids had a consequential effect; triggering a most profound change of strategy by the enemy.’
On the 83rd anniversary of the first RAF raids on Berlin, it is very interesting to note what remembered one of Bomber Command’s boys (those which some authors call ‘the Many’) years later, in this case Sqdn. Ldr. Andrew Jackson (DFC, AE, MID.) who participated in several of the attacks against the Third Reich capital in August 1940 (see previous posts here).
Jackson, who completed his first operational tour flying Wellington bombers with RAF Nos 115 and 149 Squadrons and volunteered for a second tour (joining No 49 Squadron to fly Hampden and Manchester bombers and later Avro Lancasters with No 207 Squadron), was a major contributor to the memory of RAF Bomber Command and was the author of ‘The First Raids on Berlin’ and ‘Flying 40 missions with Red’ among other books telling his personal eye-witness accounts of the air war. He died in Edinburgh on January 31, 2009, aged 91.
Here is his account of the events and how crucial he thought the Berlin raids were in changing enemy’s tactics during the Battle of Britain:
“On the 28th August 1940, we took off from Norwich Airfield, as an advanced base from Marham to attack BERLIN, on the first operation by Wellington bombers (actually two squadrons of Wellingtons participated on the first raid also, not only Hampden bombers, author’s note). An earlier raid by Hampden aircraft was made on the 25th August 1940. The target was considered to be at the extreme operational range of the Wimpey; hence the use of Norwich Airfield. To further conserve fuel, we began a very gentle climb over the North Sea, which was covered by low cloud. Without warning we were under attack from anti-aircraft fire coming from our own ships below, presumably protecting an allied convoy. Having escaped serious damage, we continued on our long flight to the German capital.
Searchlights and heavy flak were encountered on our flight, but over the actual target there was very little opposition - not what we expected. We had a clear view of the city and the marshalling yards were easily identified and attacked. Two nights later (August 30, author’s note) we returned to be met by numerous searchlights and well-directed and intensive flak. The enemy was learning fast!
The target this time was Templehoff (sic) Airfield. Our numbers were small and there is no claim that much damage resulted from our bombing but it’s very likely these raids had a consequential effect; triggering a most profound change of strategy by the enemy.
In retrospect, it seems the raids destroyed the myth of German invincibility; causing embarrassment and considerable anger against those who had openly boasted that such raids would never happen. It’s widely believed the attacks on the German capital infuriated Hitler and prompted him to seek an alternative strategy. In future, the Luftwaffe would concentrate their bombing on British cities in a renewed effort to achieve a quick victory.
[Wellington Mark IC, R1593 coded OJ-N, of No 149 Squadron RAF, being loaded with 250-lb GP bombs at Mildenhall, Suffolk, for the forthcoming night raid.]
At that time, Fighter Command was in dire straits. Biggin Hill, Tangmere, Manson (sic) and other airfields were being subjected to a terrible pasting. In some attacks, 100 bombs would be dropped on one single airfield and their viability, as an operational unit, was dubious at best. The sudden change of targeting by Goering’s Luftwaffe gave Fighter Command the respite it so desperately needed. A.C.M. Lord Dowding described it as a miracle! The daylight attacks on our cities were undertaken at high level, giving our C.H.L.’s the opportunity to detect the approach of enemy aircraft at an early stage, and to give our fighters enough time to reach optimum height. London was at the extreme range of the deadly Bf109’s and this undoubtedly contributed to higher enemy losses. Historians can regard these early raids on Berlin of immense importance since they resulted in changing the enemy’s tactics from a winning formula - to one that denied them victory. Fighter Command was able to recover from the former onslaught of airfields and aircraft – going on to defeat the Luftwaffe in one of the famous aerial battles of all time.
For the first time in World War Two, Hitler’s rampage through Europe was checked. His plans concerning the invasion of the United Kingdom required an early decision as regards the date of invasion but the heavy losses incurred by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain raised serious doubt whether a position of air superiority could be attained. Operation ‘Sea Lion’ was initially postoned then later cancelled.
The raids on Berlin helped shape aerial battlefields of the future and helped to shape future strategy and effort. They destroyed the mythology of German invicibility and illustrated the possibility of victory at a time when news and events pointed towards darkness and defeat. It was not achieved without cost. That cost is correctly recorded in the Roll of Honour in the Battle of Britain Memorial Chapel within Westminster Abbey in London.”
- 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.
- Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
- Napier, Michael. Vickers Wellington Units of Bomber Command. Combat Aircraft 133. Osprey Publishing, 2020.
- Scottish Saltire Aircrew Association. The First Raids on Berlin, Library Reference Number: 002. (accessed Sept 2023)
- The Tiller. RTB Mrs. Lavinia Flint - Leonard Ing - Andrew Jackson. Newsletter of 115 Squadron Association, April 2009. (accessed Sept 2023)
- Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2009.
- Ward, Chris. 115 Squadron Profile. Mention the War Ltd, 2019.
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