After the attacks made on three previous nights, the British air bombing offensive didn’t stop: on the last night of the month (31 August / 1 September) Berlin, Cologne and several airfields in Holland were the target for 77 RAF Blenheim light bombers, Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys twin-engined ‘heavies’.
Twenty four Wellington bombers of Bomber Command Group No 3 were dispatched to attack the Henschel airframe factory and a gas works in the capital. Just six crews claimed to reach and bomb Berlin. Twelve aircraft reported to have bombed secondary targets. Meanwhile, the target for 20 Hampden bombers from Group No 5 were the BWW factory in Berlin Spandau and Tempelhof aerodrome. The weather affected the attacks on the city, and most of the latter bombed an oil refinery at Magdeburg instead, just 5 of them reached Berlin.
The German capital was mostly obscured by clouds and the raid lasted 1 hour and 37 minutes, with bombers coming later than on previous raid. Bombs hit Kreuzberg and the southeastern area of the city again, starting fires in apartment houses and injuring 3 civilians seriously and other three slightly.British crews reported considerable AA fire and adverse weather with dense haze over the target which made that night the bombing pattern was very scattered. Impacts were also registered in Wilhelmstraße and government quarter, and, as on every raid coming from Britain, bombs falling in all western Berlin (due to ‘easy trigger’ of the bombardiers, anxious to back safely). Tegel was also hit.
The Helena Daily Independent, US newspaper, reported: ‘German claimed that damage to establishments which might be regarded as military objectives was extremely small. The propaganda ministry as it had done on Thursday morning, again prepared to take foreign correspondents on an auto tour of places sustaining damage.’
[Frontpage from The Helena Daily Independent from Montana, US newspaper covering the raid results on the very next morning.]
One Hampden bomber was lost: P2123 of 44 Squadron (‘KM-?’), piloted by Canadian F/O D Romans, which ditched on return off the beach at Cromer due to fuel starvation circa 05.35 hrs. Targets such Berlin or Poland were at the very limit of the Hampden’s range, and severe headwind or minimal navigation error could make force landing on the return flight.
[In this image we see a No 50 Squadron machine which crash-landed after running out of fuel.]
[A fine portrait of Flying Officer David Albert A Romans (DFC) of No 44 Squadron from Waddington and Corporal Harry Logan (W/Op). Romans was the pilot at the controls of that Hampden RAF bomber lost (P2123) during the return flight from Berlin after bombing the city on the night of 31 August. The rest of the crew was formed by navigator P/O Donald E Stewart and Cpl Jimmy Mandale as Air gunner. He ditched the aircraft on the return flight less than two miles from the coast at 06.20 hours. Romans had take part on the three raids over Berlin made by 44 Sqn during that month with different crews, only to be killed on 8 September 1941 over Norway in a B-17 Fortress Mk. I of No 90 Sqn dispatched to bomb the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, one of the first Flying Fortresses downed over Europe during WW2.]
[Cpl Jimmy Mandale (middle) of 44 Sqn poses with two RAF comrades. He was the air gunner on the Hampden P2123 on the night of 31 August over Berlin. Mandale’s logbook, preserved by his grandson Mark, shows that night they had been 9 hours and a half on the air for the Berlin operation and ditched due to petrol shortage on the return leg to Waddington. They made it to shore unhurt in a dinghy only to discover they were on a minefield! Info thanks to Geoffrey and Mark Mandale.]
The propaganda system led by Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels took advantage of every snapshot of damage in civilian areas on German cities produced by the nocturnal attacks of the British RAF bombers. Nazis tried to stress how ineffectual were the raids and complain that civilian targets were hit every night.
Bomber Command demonstrated again their ability to reach the Third Reich capital. These four bombing raids on August show that myth of the capital’s inviolability -shared by Berliners and the Nazi authorities- had been irrevocably shattered. The war has entered a new phase, with air-raid alarms sounding almost nightly and September would see a rising number of men and machines involved and destruction inflicted.
[Here we see the destruction caused by the attack inside a Berlin apartment, with furniture and windows destroyed after the nearly miss of a bomb on the air raid suffered by the German capital on the previous night, 31 August/1 September.]
On July 4th, 1942, RAFBomber Command sent 12 Boston Mk III light bombers (American built Douglas A-20s bearing British roundels) to bomb in a daylight raid four German Luftwaffe airfields on Holland: De Koog, Bergen/Alkamaar, Haanstede and Valkenberg air bases. Half of these bombers were assigned to the newly arrived in Europe US 15th Bomb Squadron and manned by American crews. 2 bombers were lost in this low-level attack, shot down by anti-aircraft fire; 6 airmen were missing in action: American manned AL677 piloted by 2nd Lt FA Loehrl was hit by Flak and crashed in flames over De Kooy, and Lt Lynn’s BostonAL741 was hit after dropped their bombs over Bergen.
This would be the first operation of what would become the mighty Eighth Air Force of USAAF, and the first American bombing raid in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). When the war ended, American bombers had flown more than 1,440,000 sorties, with the Eighth ‘heavies’ dropping 557,643 tons of bombs over Germany itself.
[In the images we see a bomber crew of 15th Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group with an RAF Douglas Boston of No 226 Squadron, after being awarded medals, Independence Day. Left to Right: Sgt Bennie Cunningham, T/Sgt Robert Golay, Major Charles C Kegelman and Lt Randall Dorton.]
[Original caption: “Orders are read presenting Major Charles C Kegelman with the Distinguished Service Cross and Lt. Randal M Dorton, T/Sgt. Robert L Golay and Sgt. Bennie B Cunningham with the Distinguished Flying Cross for their low altitude bombing raid on 4th July 1942.”]
This baptisme of fire had resulted in the loss of one third of the American forces sent but had great morale for the Allied cause: the United States are now active in the air war over Western Europe against the Nazi Germany. Actually, the first action on any USAAF crew to bomb occupied Europe was made by Captain Charles C Kegelman’s crew, flying on a mission with 12 RAF Bostons of No 226 Squadron were dispatched against Hazebrouck marshalling yard, France, on 29 June 1942.
Sources and Bibliography:
American Air Museum in Britain. First 8th Air Force Operation (04 July 1942). <http://www.americanairmuseum.com/mission/1241>
Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin. 1949.
Freeman, Roger. The Mighty Eighth. A history of the units, men and machines of the US 8th Air Force. Cassell & Co. 2000.
Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
On Friday 30th August afternoon, Bomber Command men were briefed again to raid Berlin.
The British force comprised 41 twin-engined aircraft ready to take off from eastern England to bomb the city that night. Prime targets were again the Siemens factory complex at the northwestern part of the ‘Big City’ and the Henschel factory in Schönefeld; with several others squadrons attacking other cities including Hamm and Emden. Of the Berlin-bound force, finally just 31 Wellington and Hampden bombers from Groups No 3 and No 5 reached the Nazi-capital. Nine crews claimed to have bombed the Siemens works and four of them Henschel, with another bomber attacking the power station at Klingenberg. First air-alarm sounded at 01.39 hrs on August 31 and as on previous raids, many sticks of incendiary- and explosive bombs hit residential areas all over the capital, damaging house buildings and streets especially at the Pankow and Kreuzberg city districts.
[A damaged block of apartments in Berlin Kreuzberg, this time at Alexandrinenstraße, most probably number 43. Flames engulfed the building after the roof being hit by an explosive bomb dropped during the Royal Air Force raid on 30/31 August 1940.]
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 press covered that night’s raids on Germany: “Ten people were killed and twenty-eight wounded in the three hour raid, said the German official news agency as firemen were still clearing away debris in the streets”.
The RAF lost 3 aircraft on this Berlin sortie: one was a Whitley, a bomber from No 58 Sqn 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).
The two other losses of the raiding force were Wellingtons, both of them 214 Squadron machines: Wellington Mark IAP2530 coded ‘BU-?’ took off from from RAF Stradishall piloted by F/O RR O’Connor tasked for Berlin. They dropped incendiary bombs on B57 target (the remainder ‘hanging up’) and when returned to base, low on fuel, undershot into a ditch short of the runway with no casualties. The other one was Wellington IAT2559 ‘BU-?’, which flew to Berlin to raid Klingenberg too 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 Raum5B 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, T2470 ‘BU-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.]
[Schäden nach Luftangriff: Berliner Feuerwehr firemen during clearing work in a four-storey residential block at Wassertorstraße 35-36 (near U-Bahnhof Prinzenstraße), hit by RAF explosive bombs on the night of 30/31 August.]
[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.]
[Destruction at Dieffenbachstraße nr 39/40: a British bomb hit the Bethseda hospital and two small incendiaries hit the adjacent Christuskirche Kreuzberg church causing this fire during the RAF air-raid on 30/31 August 1940.]
This air attack caused the death of one Berliner and injuries to another 8 people, plus thousands of evacuated from their homes during a few days but damage was minor compared to the previous raid, two nights earlier. Again, most of the British bombs hit on residential areas in central Berlin and the suburbs and this time some bombs exploded on -or adjacent- some of the ‘military’ targets like the Siemensstadt works. At the same time, across the Channel, German Luftflotte 3 bombers made a night attack on Liverpool, with minor raids on London and Portsmouth; Manchester was bombed as was Worcester and Bristol with some 50 people killed. The escalation of the bombing war was evident and in the next days both bands would increase their bomb tonnage dropped over civilians.
Sources and Bibliography:
Boiten, Theo. (2018). Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite.
Bowman, Martin. (2011). Bomber Command. Cover of Darkness 1939 - May 1942. Volume: 1. Pen & Sword Aviation.
Bowman, Martin. (2015). Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation.
Bowman, Martin. (2014). Voices in flight: The Wellington Bomber. Pen & Sword Aviation.
Chorley, WR. (2013). RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition.
Churchill, Winston. (1949). Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin.
Demps, Laurenz. (2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag.
Donnelly, Larry. (2004). The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite / Air Research.
Eenink, Bennie. T2559 The story behind the British war graves in Halle (NL). <https://oudzelhem.eu/index.php/2e-wereldoorlog/wereldoorlog-2e/32-wereldoorlog-2e/2e-wereldoorlog/verhalen-2e-wereldoorlog/881-britse-oorlogsgraven-in-halle-englishf>
Landesarchiv Berlin; A Rep. 001-02 Nr.
700, Bl. 5 ff.
Materna, Horst. (2010). Die Geschichte der Henschel Flugzeug-Werke A.G. in Schönefeld bei Berlin 1933 bis 1945. Rockstuhl Verlag.
Middlebrook, Martin and Everett, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. Reprint Edition 2014.
Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books.
Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
Shirer, William L. (1997). Berlin Diary: Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941. Galahad Books.
The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record Books: AIR 27.
Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982.
Tweddle, Paul. (2018). The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press.
Ward, Chris. (2012). 4 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books.
Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. (2013). Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag.
Williston, Floyd. (1996). Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many who Failed to Return. GSPH.
Young, Neil. (1991). The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06.
‘The sporadic raiding of London towards the end of August was promptly answered by us in a retaliatory attack on Berlin. The War Cabinet were much in the mood to hit back, to raise the stakes, and to defy the enemy. I was sure they were right…’
As seen before, RAFBomber Command raided Berlin for the first time on the night of 25/26 August 1940, following orders by Prime Minister Churchill and the War Cabinet. The German bombing by Luftwaffe aircraft in central London on the previous night had to be avenged and RAF bombs hit the nazi back. On 29 August, Churchill told the War Cabinet he proposed sending a message of congratulations to Bomber Command on the bombing of Berlin.
The morale and propagandist potential of the attack was evident, so a press event was mounted by the Air Staff to recreate the landing back from that historic mission soon as possible. Actually the press event happened on 30 August, the day after the second air-raid on Berlin by RAF aircraft (August 28/29th).
In the act took part No 115 and No 38 Squadrons’ crews, two of the six operational units flying the Vickers Wellington Mk 1C in No 3 Group. Both units were based at the time at RAF Marham air station, in Norfolk. At 12.00 hrs under blue skies, pilots and crews who went on the Berlin raid were photographed and filmed by Movietone News and Fox Photos recreating for the cameras their landing back from the previous night attack, with their Wellington medium bombers, studying maps relaxed and the post-strike debriefing with an intelligence officer. This of course was very far from war reality, tragically and deadly different.
Ironically, they had missed the first raid two nights earlier. Marham’s bomber squadrons, departing that night from Norwich airfield as advanced base to conserve fuel, visited the German capital for the first time on the night of 28/29 August when 47 Hampdens and Wellingtons bombers were sent to raid Berlin. RAF Marham contribution to the raid were nine bombers from 115 Sqn and nine more of 38 Squadron. The Squadron’s ORB (Operational Record Book) recorded about this raid: “This was our first attack on BERLIN district. Electrical installations at KLINBERGERG and TEMPELHOF aerodrome were the targets. Fires were started, and explosions seen. Haze made observation difficult. Heavy Flak and searchlights were met on the way to and returning from the target.” It shows that the first bomber took off at 20.28 hrs and the last landed back at 05.52.
[Close view of a Wellington bomber pilot on 115 Sqn photographed in his aircraft at a press event at RAF Marham air base after the second raid on Berlin, 30 August 1940.]
[30 August 1940: British RAF bombercrews from Nos 38 and 115 Squadron read a map in a staggered pose for the press covering the post-strike debriefing at RAF Marham after the second trip to Berlin.Notice all airmen here wear 1930-pattern kaki ‘Sidcot’ suits for protection from the cold air at high altitude, except the man at far right who wears an Irvin heavy sheepskin flying jacket over it.]
George Bury, a navigator in a 115 Squadron Wellington, recalls (Bowman, M. 2014): ‘The target was Klingenberg Electric. Having been warned that the area was very heavily defended, we decided to fly at 15,000 feet. That was 5,000 feet higher than our normal height. At this height it was essential to use oxygen all the time, but after a few hours the masks became wet and uncomfortable to use. (…) Searchlights were very active. Although one did pick us up, he failed to keep us within his beam long enough for the others in the group to join in. When just ahead we saw a Wellington caught by two at the same time and quick as a flash many others concentrated on the same target as he was caught in a cone of a least ten searchlights. The whole area around the aircraft was as bright as day and no matter which way he turned and twisted, they easily held on to him. The last we saw of him he was in a steep dive with shells bursting all around. This was our eighth flight and the first time that we had seen another aircraft. We were beginning to think we were fighting the whole war on our own.’
Bombing pattern was poor and results unimpressive, it was a little succeed in the goal to destroy the German capital, but a tremendous impact in the moral of the British; from this point the ‘Big City’, as the Nazi-capital become known to the crews, became a regular target for small forces of Bomber Command aircraft.
[30 August 1940: Studying a map are members of the crews who took part in the retaliatory bombing of Berlin after the Luftwaffe attacks on London.]
[A close portrait of a cheerful Bomber Command crewmember, Arthur Landon Todd of 115 Sqn, who took part on the first Berlin raids. Original captions reads: ‘They Returned From Berlin. R.A.F. personnel who took part in raids on German Capital. One of the pilots who took part in the raid on Berlin. He was formerly an insurance agent.’]
British Pathé recorded the event in film too, seen later on cinema screens on Movietone News, entitled “With The Air Force - Back From Berlin”, this morale-booster footage shows the Squadron crews recreating a post-strike debriefing. Martin Pathé sent a telegram to Wing Commander Thomson, OC No 38 Squadron, RAF Marham, to advise him when the film is to be released locally.
The plan, conceived by RAFSquadron Leader Roger Bushell, in charge of ‘X’ Escape Committee, consisted on a mass escape from the North Compound of the prisoners camp Stalag Luft III at Sagan, Upper Silesia, about 100 miles southeast from Berlin (present day Zagan, Poland). He executed it on the night of March 24th, 1944.
Many of these airmen had been taken prisoners after being downed over Berlin in the previous months. That’s the case of P/O Alan Bryett No 158 Sqn, a bomb-aimer shot down by a Luftwaffe night fighter over the Nazi-capital on the night of 23/24 August 1943 in a Handley-Page Halifax Mk II bomber piloted by Australian F/Lt Kevin Hornibrook. It was one of 62 bombers lost that night by Bomber Command. Bryett was forced by Luftwaffe members to walk through the smoking Berlin. Behind the wire, after arrive to the camp in October 1943, he became a ‘penguin’, strolling surreptitiously around the compound dispersing sand from the tunnels with a blooming great sock full of sand down each trouser leg. Bryett was in the queue of men waiting to escape the night of the plan by tunnel (the one nicknamed ‘Harry’, about 300-foot long) when the German guards discovered the tunnel entrance.
[A portrait of P/O Alan Bryett shortly after return from Stalag Luft Sagan in 1945.]
Bushell’s plan was to get 220 out of the camp, but only 76 crawled through to freedom.
However, the escape plan was not without troubles. Flight Lieutenant Johnny Bull discovered that the tunnel mouth was some 15 feet short of the tree line and within 30 yards of the nearest watch tower. Also, an air-raid on Berlin then caused the camp’s (and the tunnel’s) electric lighting to be shut down, slowing the escape even more.
This raid was the last RAF bombing on the capital during the ‘Battle of Berlin’. Bomber Command dispatched 811 bombers in bad weather to bomb the city; the big winds suffered, very bad bombing pattern and the great losses -72 aircraft- made the raid a disaster. The proximity of Sagan’s POWs camp to Berlin and the start of that air attack were the cause the Germans disconnect the lighting, as standard procedure for blackout says. The bombing force was so scattered by wind and fighter attacks that a total of 126 communities outside Berlin reported being bombed.
[A group of German officers look at the discovered entrance to a tunnel dug in hut 104 at Stalag Luft III.]
Of 76 escapees, 73 were re-captured, and Gestapo murdered 50 of them following Hitler orders in the following days.
Bryett remembers: ‘My initial disappointment at not being among the 76 men to get out was transformed into a grim relief when news filtered back to the camp that 50 of the re-captured men had been shot, on Hitler’s orders. They were so young. Even our guards were shocked – they let us build a memorial to our friends.’ After “The Great Escape”, escaping was forbidden by senior British officers. Risk was so high.
In total, the camp ‘hosted’ 2,500 RAF officers, about 7,500 USAAF, and about 900 officers from other Allied air forces, for a total of 10,949 inmates. It was liberated in January 1945 by Soviet forces.
[A view of the huts and compound at Stalag Luft III camp.]
Another one related with Berlin is Flight Lieutenant Denys O Street of RAF No 207 Squadron. He was shot down on 29/30 March 1943 flying a Lancaster bomber during that night raid over Berlin (one of 21 aircraft lost). He evaded from the camp on the famous night but to be recaptured near Sagan and later murdered. Street is the only victim whose ashes are not at Poznan; his rest are at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.
[Photographic set of 25 images of Allied airmen, escapees from Stalag Luft III, recaptured and executed by Gestapo in March and April 1944. Flying Officer D O Street is number 43.]
This story was was later immortalized, very altered and fictioned, in the 1963 Hollywood film “The Great Escape” starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough, based on the book written by Paul Brickhill, one of the camp inmates.
Lest we forget them.
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.
Yesterday I had the honor to assist to the presentation of the map of “Madrid bombed. 1936-1939”, an initiative of the architects Enrique Bordes and Luis de Sobrón (@madrid1936_1939) of the UPM Universidad Politécnica de Madrid with the collaboration of the Madrid city council.
It is the first time that a map has been referenced and documented of each street and building in Madrid that suffered damage by bombing during the Spanish Civil War, whether artillery or aviation bomb, from the archives, photographs of impacts and testimonies from Madrid citizens, and especially the Fire Department work (Juan Miguel Redondo Toral). This is a great initiative that other cities such as London already have, which should have been done a long time ago, to try not to forget that Madrid was the first city in history to suffer a modern bombing campaign (apart from London in 1917) and served as an experiment for Luftwaffe and Mussolini’s Regia Aeronautica to learn how to bomb a large metropolis in an strategic role.
I wish that the past of years, does not erase our memory never more. Sadly, in these last 80 years, no institution or government has supported or organized anything like this until now.
During November and part of December of 1936 Madrid was raided every day and every night by Franco’s aviation, with German and Italian crews and planes. Simultaneously, and during the rest of the war, howitzers and guns from the nearby front line at Casa de Campo, shells every morning civilian areas like Gran Via avenue, causing numerous victims. Madrid was follow from the summer of 1937 by Barcelona, Alicante, Sagunto…
[A view of this fantastic map of Madrid´s bombings.]
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 Nollendorfkiezdistricts 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.
[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 oficial 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 Squn, 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) RAFBomber 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.”
During this campaign, on the night of 2/3 December 1943 six 8,000-pounders were dropped , carried in the extra-large bomb-bays of the Lancasters Mk II of No 115 Squadron, this was the first use of those larger versions of the blast-bomb on or near Berlin.
[This Mark IIDS689/’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 byNo 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. Their 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.
Second part of the pictures taken by Soviet war photographer Valery Faminsky (1914–1993) during the Fall of Nazi Berlin in May 1945.
[Major S L Rogatchevsky, a Soviet medical officer, poses next to a propaganda slogan painted on a wall by SS members during the battle that reads: ‘Berlin stays German!’. Possibly located at Einbecker Straße.]
[A portrait of two soldiers at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Nationaldenkmals vor dem Stadtschloss near the Spree river. See at center of the image the Zeughaus building; out of picture at far left would be the Bauakademie (Building Academy) (info thanks to Jürgen Raddatz).]
These pictures were taken by Soviet war photographer Valery Faminsky (1914–1993) during the Fall of Nazi Berlin in May 1945. This archive was discovered recently in Moscow. He photographed the Red Army’s combat from Ukraine to Berlin.
Photographer Arthur Bondar heard that the family of Faminsky was selling the album and negatives after his death in 2011, so he acquired the archive in 2016.
These amazing pics of World War Two were taken during April 22nd to May 24th 1945, as Faminsky accompanied Soviet troops during their final assault of Third Reich’s capital. One of the most valued aspects of this album is that they are recorded far away from Soviet propaganda: images showing the troops daylife during their march to Berlin, the population, the ruins of the big city…the true face of destruction accomplished by the Allies. He also documented the care of wounded soldiers in Berlin for the medical authorities.
A truly witness of the reality of war, enjoy it.
[The Reichstag’s burnt out main entrance and portico.]
[A wrecked Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109.Closer look reveals early canopy frame and braced horizontal stabilizer, so this is an old Emil version, the best fighter in the world in 1939 but outclassed by 1945.]
Last summer we can saw all this impressive images in an exhibition in Berlin. Bildband Berlin opened this show during 12th May – 12th July 2018 at Immanuelkirchstr. 33 (Prenzlauer Alle). Also we can adquire this complete album in a fabulous German/English 184 pages-edition “Valery Faminsky – Berlin Mai 1945” at their bookshop.
The strategic method to destroy German cities employed by Bomber Command in area bombings was based on fires caused by the incendiary bombs, and to ignite it, Great Britain had to devise a new type of weapon that would accelerate and facilitate its jump from house to house, block to block, eliminating also any obstacle that would stop it - walls and piles. It was necessary a great power, which generated a formidable expansive blast wave.
In October 1940, the Air Staff required to design and develop this new range of weapons to “dehouse” the enemy’s cities: these would be named ‘High capacity’ bombs or HC.
Based on the Blitz experiences, the British learn how effective were the air-mines dropped by Luftwaffe bombers and their destructive effects in the city. An air-mine was a sea mine adapted to be dropped on land targets, usually attaching it to a parachute. A clockwork mechanism would detonate the mine 17-25 seconds after impact, detonating at roof level (the force of the blast would disperse laterally) to maximize the explosion in built-up areas and to obtain a huge ‘blast-effect’. The Luftwaffe used several types of these bombs, the most common were the 500 kg Luftmine A and the 1,000 kg Luftmine B and had ahigh charge ratio of 60-70 percent. They were first used against land targets on 16 September 1940 in the early stages of the air-assault against Britain.
[A German 1,000 kg-Luftmine B (LMB) fitted with a MA1 magnetic acoustic detonator (as
indicated on the nose) being loaded onto a transportation trolley prior to a bombing sortie from a french aerodrome.]
[In this photo we can see Police and Army bomb disposal officers with a defused German 1,000 kg Luftmine B during the Blitz in Glasgow, 18 March 1941. The image allows us to appreciate the size of this bomb.]
The British idea was to create a blast bomb, in a certain way inspired by those German “air-mines”, filled with a high charge ratio in the lightest possible structure, a thin steel case. HC-bombs usually used high charge to weight ratios of 70-88%. The bomb was filled with HE Amatol and sometimes this one was also mixed with TNT and aluminium powder to form ‘Torpex’ and ‘Minol’. Their lightweight construction meant that they collapsed on impact so that they had to be instantaneously fused, delayed action not being an option here. In addition, its high weight made these bombs to fall straight, blowing off roofs and windows like paper so that the small 4-lb incendiary bombs could reach the building interiors, ignite and burn, and creating in the process a flue chimney to help fire to expand.
The HC series introduced the innovator concept of modular construction and all have a crude cylindrical shape with flat noses, resembling a dust bin. The absence of tailfins made these blast-bombs had no ballistic characteristics, so when dropped they could land anywhere. The parachute of the initial series was deleted after test runs proved no need to ‘soft’ their landing and also made more unstable the weapon from 800 to 2,000 feet.
These weapons were known unofficially as ‘Blockbusters’ because of the idea that they were capable of destroying a whole block of flats in a city. The earliest press reference of this term appeared in a USUnited Press report dated 29 July 1942, but it didn’t appear in British press until January 1943. The start of the association of this term with the cinema apparently dates back to May 1943, when ‘blockbuster’ was used for the publicity campaign of a RKO’s war film named Bombardier (The tagline of the movie reads: “The block-buster of all action-thrill-service shows!”), and in 1944 in another war documentary called Marines at Tarawa (‘It hits the heart like a two ton blockbuster!’ it said…) and press became to associate it with massive impact and success(Hall S, 2014).
Germans continued to referred to it as Luftminen. British crews called them Cookies, perhaps due to their shape, but it is unknown. Others says this was a codename for an usual bomb-load consisting of a large canister - the HC-, several HE bombs and a thousand incendiaries and for whatever reason the name ‘cookie’ became associated with the canister itself.
[Movie poster of the 1943 war-film Bombardier. Notice at upper left the strike message using the ‘block-buster’ term.]
First of the large HC weapons designed was the 4,000-lb HC bomb - the so called ‘Cookie’, required initially as a mine-bomb to drop on naval targets such as harbours and ships. The device had to be able to fit into the Wellington medium bomber bomb-bay and was so big that no bomb trolley was capable of carrying such a bomb at the time. First bomb was ready in November 1940, and the great urgency for the bomb made that several were dropped already in February 1941 (first official use of these new 4,000-pounders were on 31 March / 1 April 1941 on a raid on Emden). Initial installation of a parachute was dropped later by Air Staff but a nose spoiler was fitted to improve ballistic performance. By August, 226 bombs had been dropped but the type was not officially part of the Command’s inventory until January 1942. Their usual weight was 3,930-lb (1,786 kg). From February 1943 a new ‘proximity fused’ type of 4,000-lb HC bomb, with a wide blast-effect, was used when four Lancasters dropped them for the first time on La Spezia port in Italy.
[A WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) tractor driver leaving the bomb dump with a 4,000-lb ‘Cookie’ bomb on a trolley, at RAF Mildenhall airbase in 1942.]
During the war 68,000 of these bombs were dropped by Bomber Command, other sources indicates a nearly 93,000 figure but it is evident that the 4,000-pounder was the mainstream weapon of the HC range; it was estimated that these bombs were 1.4 times more effective as the same weight of medium bombs at causing structural damage. Each of these blast bombs cost the British Government £163 according to existing data.
[An RAF armourer working on an early variant of the 4,000-lb HC blast-bomb prior to a mission.]
[In this original colour film we can see British RAF ground-crew around a trolley with a 4,000-lb HC behind one containing six American 500-lb bombs (note the tailfins), prior to be loaded into the bomb-bay.]
[An Avro Lancaster Mark I, NG128 ‘SR-B’, of No 101 Squadron RAF, piloted by Warrant Officer R B Tibbs, releases a 4,000-lb HC ‘Cookie’ (at right) and 30-lb incendiary bombs over the target during a special daylight raid on Duisburg. Notice the large aerials on top of the Lancaster’s fuselage next to the top turret, indicating that the aircraft is carrying ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC), a jamming device which disrupted enemy radio channels to confuse German nightfighters and air controllers. This is a still from film shot by the RAF Film Production Unit.]
[Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster taken from the bomb-bay camera, by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No 5 Group. A 4,000-lb bomb ‘Cookie’ and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.]
[This film was created by the US Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland during the tests made of British 4,000 pound munitions. Video credit: Periscope Film LLC Archive.]
The 4,000-pounder was closely followed by the next variant of this type, the smaller one: 2,000-lb HC bomb. Their usual weight was 1,842-lb (837 kg). Subsequent Mark II and Mark III of this 2,000-pounders differed in detail; the conical nose was replaced with a domed nose and the number of fuzes was increased from one to 3 to guarantee detonation. This is the only ‘blockbuster’ bomb can be carried and dropped by the big Short Stirling heavy bomber due to its narrow bomb-bay.
The number dropped from a 194 figure in the year 1941 to a max point of 16,227 in 1944. Following development of larger bombs, this type was redesigned at the Command’s request and incorporated the use of a ballistic tall unit. The new variant became available for use in August of 1942 and remained a part of the RAF general inventory throughout the remainder of the conflict. A total of 28,633 of these weapons were dropped by Bomber Command during the war.
[Australian armourers load a 2,000-lb High Capacity bomb into the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster bomber of No 467 Sqn RAAF at Waddington air base in August 1944. Chalk inscription warning groundcrew that the weapon has her fuses inserted in the bomb dump.]
In 1942, a larger version of the blast bomb was developed by joining together two 4,000-lb HC bomb sections, creating the 8,000-lb High Capacity bomb (‘super cookie’) which although similar in design to the standard ‘Cookie’ were actually shorter in length and of larger diameter, so even the Lancaster bomber had to be modified to carry this weapon (bulged bay-bomb doors).
Their usual weight was 7,860-lb (3,572 kg). Only the front section was fused and this in turn detonated the connecting section by blast wave. These bombs were deployed against similar targets but in shorter numbers, this was because when testing, the sections of the 8,000-pounder were found to be inferior to a single 4,000-lb HC bomb. 1,088 of them were used in combat during the war.
[An armourer gets inside the fin of an 8000-lb bomb to make adjustments prior a mission.]
Finally, the RAF employed the biggest model of this series, the 12,000-lbHC bomb (5,425 kg was their usual weight) filled with Torpex explosive and fused with three nose position fuzes. This ‘Super-cookie’ bomb was developed in 1942 after a study of the Air Staff for a large weapon. It was created essentially with three 4,000-lb ‘Cookies’ bolted together with the addition of a six-finned ballistic tail, but actually the bomb was shorter due to the need to fit it into the Lancaster bomb-bay; loaded it took aprox. 35 minutes and four men to prepare it.
But this weapon was rarely used against targets like cities, they were primarily reserved to special precision targets or factories. First use of this bomb was on 14 September 1943 when No 617 Sqn attacked the heavily defended Dortmund-Ems Canal. Just 193 of these big-size bombs were dropped by RAFBomber Command during the war, most of them expended by the ‘special’ No 617 Squadron with not much success.
[An RAF armourer checks a large 12,000-lb HC device in her trolley before loading it on Lancaster B144/’KC-N’ in a dispersal zone at RAF Coningsby for an incoming bombing operation against the Third Reich on 15 September 1943. This bomber was lost during that very day in a disastrous raid.]
[Video credit: Buyout Footage Historic Film Archive.]
The following image summarized part of the RAF’s blast-bombs family: armourers show off bombs for a comparison in size at the bomb dump at RAF Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. In the front are 1,000-lb and 500-lb MC bombs, behind them a 2,000-lb HC Mark I, then a 4,000-lb HC Mark III or Mark IV ‘Cookie’. Finally, at the rear, is a 12,000-lb HC ‘Blockbuster’.