Luftangriff – 1 September 1940

‘Berlin has Alarm in new R.A.F. raid’ 

British Formation Reported Broken Up at Elbe Before Reaching the Capital.’ 
The New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940 –

Photo: ullstein bild.

On the night of 31 August / 1 September, 1940, RAF Bomber Command aircraft overflew and dropped bombs on the Third Reich’s heart again, less than twenty-four hours since the previous raid and for a fourth time in a week. Berliners ran to their cellars and shelters to take cover meanwhile the anti-aircraft defences and searchlights of the city tried to repel the British air raiders.

As we have seen on a previous post, London sent twenty-eight medium bombers to hit military and industrial targets in and around the capital in what the British claimed as “an offensive”. 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.[1]

The German capital was mostly obscured by clouds and rain (returning crews reported 10/10 clouds over the target) with some witnesses reporting as nearly impossible for the flyers above to mark out any definite target’[2] with bombers coming later than on previous raid. The first air sirens of the city were heard at 00.03 hours of that Sunday in what would be the tenth air alarm of the war in Berlin since the war began a year before, which lasted an hour and thirty-six minutes until the all-clear alarm (‘Entwarnung’) finally sounded at 01.41 hrs.[3] 

[UFA-Wochenschau photographer Karl-Arthur Petraschk captured this scene of destruction after the RAF visited the Great Berlin area.]

Photo: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Sirens Sound in Capital After Heavy Bombing of Previous Night
The bombardment caused little and minor damage and most of the bombs —relatively few compared to the previous raid fell quite scattered throughout the city. British crews reported considerable Flak (anti-aircraft fire) and adverse weather with dense haze over the target which made that night the bombing pattern was very scattered. The Air Ministry communique noted that the raid had taken Berliners by surprise on account of the thick rain cloud prevalent over the city.[4]

For his part, the official Oberkommando der Wehrmacht report, released on September 20th, summed up the events of the attack: ‘During the night, British planes flew into the Ruhr area and towards Berlin and dropped bombs in several places, but they caused only minor damage. Military targets were never hit. Some bombs fell on open ground outside the city.’ [5] 

As on previous air attacks, German records listed every damage reported and bomb hit noted in the Greater Berlin area in the following hours after the British raiders left the city. At the city centre, the Berlin-Mitte administrative district reported slight damage with just one bomb hit at Alte Jakobstraße 93-95 where a gas candelabra was damaged.[6]

Meanwhile, at Lichtenstein-Allee in the Tiergarten district, three incendiary bombs were reported to have fell on the road but no damage was caused to the adjacent Spanische Botschaft (the Spanish Embassy in Berlin). In the middle of the Tiergarten park, at Bellevue-Allee approx one hundred metres north of the main avenue Charlottenburger Chaussee three high-explosive bombs hit the ground causing severe damage to the road, curbs and light pipes; one of those was found unexploded. Gardeners working in the park discovered the craters and this section of the Tiergarten was closed by the police because of the danger.[7] A bit further in a southwestern direction, three more incendiary bombs landed at Budapester Str. Nr 36 next to the famous Elephant Gate of the Zoologischer Garten, without damaging it.[8]

[In this aerial view of the Auguste-Viktoria-Platz (today’s Breitscheidplatz) taken just before the war and its destruction, we can clearly see the grand Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche at centre with the Zoo’s main entrance and Budapester Straße running to the top of the picture.]

Photo: stadtbild.

Moreover, mentioned on the damage reports was the impact of eight explosive bombs, listed as 100 kg bombs, at Rieselfelder Gatow in Spandau district. Some more explosive bombs fell on forest or open country areas as it was the case of Stadtgut Blankenfelde in Pankow district or Kietzer Feld at Köpenick, where caused minor property damage and no personal injuries. As on previous raids, shells from the anti-aircraft guns defending the capital fell on several Berlin streets (exploding or not) as noted on the city’s bombing report, was the case of Thiemannstr. 36 in Neukölln and some others at Prenzlauer Berg and Wedding, where a gas candelabra was damaged at Afrikanische Str. Ecke Transvalstraße.[9]. No personal losses or injured people were reported by the German authorities.[10]

[Debris and bomb damage left by a British RAF explosive on a Berlin street, an image published on several foreign newspapers after being passed by the German censor.] 

Photo: bpk/Carl Weinrother.

[Berliners inspecting the bomb damage and debris left by the previous night raid, 1 September 1940.] 

Photo: ullstein bild.

[A German PK photographer captured this burned-out barn in a northern suburb of the city after the British bombing visit which struck the Third Reich’s capital again.]

Photo: Sammlung Berliner Verlag Archiv/AKG5571009.

[This is an overall view of the locations where British bombs fell on that night superimposed to a 1940-map of Berlin. In this case the numbers refer to the amount of bombs (HE– black colour; incendiaries– red; ‘duds’ and Flak shells– orange) reported on every district. The scattered pattern of the bombing is clearly evident.]

Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

Berlin unscathed in raids, Nazis say
International press reports described the raid as a failure (a first), with most of the British attacking formation unable to reach Berlin due to the bad weather found reporting just a pair of bombers succeeding in getting as far as the outskirts of the capital. It was noted that the solitary bombers ‘attacked the city from two directions, were met by thunderous anti-aircraft fire’  and that ‘from one of the western city districts police reported that a handful of incendiary bombs had fizzled out harmlessly’ [11]. Most articles concluded that no damage was done to military objectives and that German police only recognized that ‘three bombs had exploded in the vicinity of the capital and these in open fields, doing no damage.’ [12]

New York Times correspondent in Berlin Percival Knauth in his wireless to the paper reported the failure of most of the raiders to reach the city too, but described how loud the noise of approaching planes and the whistle of falling missiles [sic] were heard in his office at Wilhelmstraße adding in the chronicle that ‘in the intervening period the most that could be heard was the occasional far-off grumbling of guns.’ [13]

[R.A.F. planes renew attack on Berlin’ reads the frontpage headline of the American The New York Times newspaper the following morning of this raid, September 1, 1940.]  

Photo: The New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940.

Regarding the attacked targets, it does not appear that any bombs caused damage or fell near the BMW factory, or at least the Nazi authorities did not mention it in any of their reports. Interestingly, author Paul Tweddle in his Bomber Command summer of 1940 chronicle book, states that the Berlin correspondent of the Swiss Basler Nachrichten newspaper reported that ‘a large aero engine factory in the north-east of the city had come attack soon after 23.20 hours, as had a power plant in the western part of the city.’ [14] Something rather dubious, as Spandau where the BMW works is located still today is on the opposite side of the city (northwest), and even more difficult: at that time the RAF had not even reached Berlin much less had dropped their bombs. Also, another main target of the planned attack the Tempelhof airport facilities, did not suffer any damage on that night.

[The BMW Flugmotorenbau factory at Berlin-Spandau, shown here in this Christmas view in 1939, was one of the assigned targets but not a single bomb landed there on this raid. Note the air raid siren at right to alert the employees and workers from an incoming air attack.]

Photo: BMW Group Archiv.

City Pounded, British Say
This fourth air raid on the capital of the Reich left poor results in the bombing. The few bombers that managed to overcome the bad weather and reach the city limits were unable to find their targets in the clouds and darkness. The damage in the city was minor and many bombs fell again in sparsely inhabited areas and open fields, with no military interest. Once again, despite the city’s powerful defences, the anti-aircraft guns failed to bring down any of the raiders.[15] Dr Laurenz Demps, in his extensive study about the bombing war over the German capital, listed the amount of bombs dropped on that night on the city as 5,5 t of explosives and around 552 units of incendiaries of the small 4-lb type, compared to the more than 19 t of HE bombs dropped on the previous raid.[16]

The RAF offensive on Berlin, slowly and with few aircraft, was not achieving material effects, but it would achieve another one of much importance: on this day, Hitler gave orders to prepare for major air attacks on London, which led to a directive issued by Göring two days later. Both leaders present the planned series of raids against the British capital as a revenge attack, a deadly reprisal from the RAF bombardment of Berlin.[17] 

The air war has entered a new phase, with raid alarms sounding almost nightly, and September would see a rising number of men and machines involved and destruction inflicted.



[1] see Berlin Luftterror, Four in a row: 31 August 1940; The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Operations Record BooksAIR 27.
[2] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, Monday, September 2, 1940, pages 1-2.
[3] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12; DEMPS, Laurenz. Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 238.
[4] TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, p 185.
[5] OKW report, dated September 20, 1940, see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12.
[6] ibid.
[7] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, Monday, September 2, 1940, pages 1-2; see also LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12. Shirer wrote in his diary: Tiergarten was roped off today and this evening the press admits that “several bomb craters” were discovered in the park after last night’s raid. SHIRER, William. Berlin Diary - The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-41. Alfred A Knopf, 1941, pp 493-4.
[8] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 12.
[9] ibid.
[10] ibid.
[11] Associated Press to the New York Times, Sunday, September 1, 1940, page 1.
[12] ibid.
[13] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, Monday, September 2, 1940, pages 1-2.
[14] TWEDDLEop. cit. p 185.
[15] see CHORLEYWR. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition, 2013; and BOITEN, Theo. Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite, 2018.
[16] DEMPSop. cit. p 285.
[17] OVERY, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane, 2013.


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  • Young, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991.
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