[Berlin 1/2 March 1943: this night oblique taken by an RAF bomber during the raid shows smoke drifting from fires in the Steglitz area (A) and a concentration of fires around the Tempelhof marshallings yards (B). The bomb-bay camera mechanism was activated seconds later the bomb-aimer dropped the bombs and the flash bomb. Most of the south-west area of the city suffered much damage on that night due to attacking force’s radar (H2S) difficulties to identified assigned targets, when 302 Bomber Command aircraft visited the Reich’s capital. Bombing pattern spread over 100 square miles. The British lost 17 bombers (5.6 percent of the force) and 191 Berliners lost their lives.]
Steglitz, mostly part a residential district, was one of the most bombed districts of Berlin during the war due to its location in the western area of the capital. Many bombs fell there during the initial 1940 raids, but especially during the British RAF campaign in 1943-44. It was the second most heavily destroyed district, only after Schöneberg.
A very good source about the bombings suffered by this Berlin area is the testimony of Dieter E. Zimmer, covered in detail in his work Bombenkrieg. Aus Dieter und Jürgen Zimmer: Zur Familiengeschichte, 2005.
The ancient village was founded on the twelfth century and it is first documented in 1375 as “Stegelitz”, being refounded in 1792 as a Prussian village. After the Weimar Republic was proclaimed, Steglitz was incorporated to the city in April 1920 into the Groß-Berlin-Gesetz together with neighboring villages creating new boroughs named after the largest villa in the area, a demarcation later used for reference during the division of the city in occupation sectors in July 1945. Since 2001, after a big administrative reform, Berlin southwestern area was united in the newly created Steglitz-Zehlendorf (which includes Steglitz, Lichterfelde, Lankwitz, Zehlendorf, Dahlem, Nikolassee and Wannsee). The suburb lived pioneer times at the dawn of the twentieth century, the world’s first electrified tram line ran through there (Groß-Lichterfelde village) in 1881 and Otto Lilienthal (1848-96) made his first flight jumps in 1893 from the Maihöhe nearby hills.
[A 1912-postcard of the Steglitz suburb, with a view of Albrechtstraße Ecke Schloßstraße and the Rathaus Steglitz townhall, today home of Bürgeramt Steglitz (“Citizens’ Office” could be a translation). Designed by architects Reinhardt and Süßenguth, it was built in 1896-97 in Neo Gothic style.]
When the war broke out in September 1939, the western Berlin suburb of Steglitz was part of the ’Groß-Berlin’ capital of the Reich and the bombs would fell indiscriminately on its habitants, from the humblest workers on the banks of the Teltowkanal to the petty aristocratics and their elegant villas of Dahlem. But they would go on, the horrors of aerial bombings were something new and even curious, the fear to air-raids and their deadly consequences would not come until months later. Life was still going on in the capital of the Reich.
[A column of new Volkswagen Beetles stops in front of the Rathaus Steglitz in January 1939 shown by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF), the Nazi-labour organization.]
[The red-brick facade of the Rathaus Steglitz town hall, seen at left, highlights in this colour view of Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße at Berlin-Steglitz district (U-Bhf Rathaus Steglitz) taken on an early evening of mid 1940 with pedestrians and parked cars.]
[This closer look was taken seconds later than the previous image, it also shows Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße. The famous 4-story dome-shaped building seen at right (Schloßstraße 88 - Albrechtstraße 132) is listed as a cinema theatre, opening in 1911 as the ‘Deutsches Theater’ with 180 seats, and still exists with minor changes. Notice the numerous electricity lines for the Berlin yellow trams all over the street. The yellow road sign next to the Rathaus points to Grunewald, some 5 km away from this spot.]
[This winterly view of that same location from a different angle (Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße), taken in 1945 shows us a more desolate scene after more than two years of continuing bombing. The “Deutsches Theater” was hit by RAF incendiary bombs on the night of 31 August 1943.]
Several works and factories were located near and on Steglitz, mainly the big AEG Telefunken factory in Goerzallee at Berlin-Zehlendorf. Also the extensive traffic of goods that traveled through the Landwehr- and Teltowkanal made the area an intended target for the enemies and the strategic bombing campaign. Another factor of the great ton of bombs dropped on this sector was that the majority of bombs fell in western Berlin on every raid because it was the closest and the first area to overfly from the English bases; sometimes due to ‘easy trigger’ too, bombardiers anxious to start the return home flight. A long list of damaged buildings hit by bombs is recorded in the capital records as are the casualties figures: Markelstraße, Lepsiusstraße, Schloßstraße, Birkbuschstraße, Feuerbachstraße…
On the very first day of the war, 1 September 1939, the air-sirens sounded on this suburb, located on the corner house at Schloß- and Feuerbachstraße (Zimmer, 2005) to alert its people of incoming aircraft. Several bombs landed here during the late summer and fall of 1940 British air-raids with the first big attack suffered by Steglitz and Friedenau being on Sunday, September 7, 1941 by RAF bombers. Steglitz, Lankwitz and surrounding areas were heavily hit when the British offensive was reactivated on January 1943, especially by the huge aerial attack on 1/2 March when 257 bombers raided the capital. This area was again bombed hard with big devastation on 23/24 August 1943 during the initial phase of the British RAF “Battle of Berlin” (in the case of Lankwitz nearly a 85% was destroyed) with severe damage done to the Steglitz power-station. Hundreds of people died during the two and a half hours raid, 174 of them at Steglitz, many were injured. The actual route of most bombers that night, further west than planned and the total failure of the radar marking system made bombing pattern very scattered, with south-western districts taking a heavy toll, far away from the intended main target: Mitte. On 24/25 March 1944 the Rathaus Steglitz building was hit by British bombs during the last raid of the air-offensive too when the southwestern area was bombed heavily again.
[Bomb damage at Schloßstraße 121 in Steglitz district. ‘Schloßstr. 121, dreistöckiges Wohnhaus total ausgebrannt’ states the city report after the 1 March 1943 British raid on Berlin.]
The greatest destruction was about to come, however, during the American attacks starting in the spring of 1944. During the first US daylight raid (6 March 1944, 730 heavy bombers of the US Eighth Air Force dispatched), the leading elements of the 3rd Air Division closed the city from the south towards their primary target: the Bosch electrical works at Klein Machnow but heavy overcast made its 4th Combat Wing to drop bombs over the only gap free of clouds they encountered: Steglitz. The 75-aircraft formation released their explosives over the southern part of the residential district causing severe destruction. One of them was shot down by flak and another 49 suffered damage. Final apocalypse came during the 1945 big ‘area’ US bombings, especially on the raid made on February 3rd, 1945,by a thousand heavy bombers.
[The ruined house at Schloßstraße nr 19 following the British RAF Bomber Command air-raids on fall 1943. Today this place is home of Schildhorn-Apotheke in a new building built after the war, next to U-Bahn Schloßstraße station and the Bierpinsel & Schlossturm.]
[Rubble and debris covered Schloßstraße 20 Ecke Ahornstraße in Berlin Steglitz district following the British RAF Bomber Command air-raids during November 1943; this image was taken in the summer of 1945 months after the end of the war. Notice the Möbel Höffner ad on the destroyed wall. Höffner Möbelgesellschaft GmbH is a Berlin-based furniture company founded in 1874 by Rudolf Höffner. Located at Veteranenstraße 12/13 (Berlin-Mitte), Höffner became Berlin’s largest furniture store until the outbreak of the Second World War.]
[March 1945: A freight train (route Potsdam - Berlin Potsdamer Bahnhof) rolls on Steglitz freight station; the damaged building seen at left was the Postfuhramt (post office) at Bergstraße and the S-bahn station is barely seen in the background. While all around the city is already in ruins, the Reichsbahn fulfills its intended task until the final collapse, and even rebuilds the destroyed signal box office.]
[Here we see a destruction scene on the southeast corner of Berlin-Steglitz district: the Siemens- and Hannemann-brücke lays in ruins after the end of the war. Both bridges linked Steglitz and Lankwitz across the Teltowkanal and were destroyed shortly before the final assault in April 1945 by Wehrmacht troops to prevent Soviet forces to cross into the inner defence perimeter of the Reich’s capital. All bridges across the Teltow- and Landwehrkanal were demolished in this action except one (Späthstraße brücke).]
[The Hannemannbrücke was rebuilt in its present form in 1955/56 as a steel girder bridge. The original bridge (seen in this photo) was a truss structure made of steel. The Siemensbrücke at Siemensstraße was rebuilt in 1956/1957 as a steel beam bridge after the canal was cleared of debris and bridge damaged parts.]
On 24 April 1945 the Red Army started the assault on the southwestern outskirts of capital Berlin. Once across the Teltow, Soviet troops of the Third Guards Tank Army and 1st Guards Army pushed on and reached Dahlem and Steglitz on that very day attacking from the south into the Berlin defensive sector “E” where Steglitz belongs. The fight lasted until April 30 when the last German forces were defeated or captured.
[A Soviet convoy of the Red Army (most probably ZIS-5 trucks produced by Moscow, by contrast third on the line is an US-built GMC truck) passes in front of the battle-scarred old Rathaus at Schloßstraße Ecke Albrechtstraße after the fight for Berlin, May 1945.]
[More Soviet Red Army vehicles with two T-34/85 tanks led by an BA-65 armoured car drive past to Rathaus Steglitz at Schloßstraße in their way through the city to the southwestern suburbs of Berlin, taken in May 1945.]
[German workers cleared rubble and debris at the destroyed streets of Berlin-Steglitz. In this silent footage filmed in July 1945, the level of destruction suffered by the suburb by the fighting and bombing raids can be seen. Video credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Theodor Röckle Collection. ID:3917.]
The destruction suffered by this area during the bombing raids and the final battle was heavy, and the Berliner sense of humor renamed Steglitz as ‘steht nichts’ - ‘nothing is standing’ after the war.
Sources and Bibliography:
Aengeneyndt, Jan-Derk. Südwest-Berlin als Kriegsgebiet. Die Bezirke Zehlendorf und Steglitz von Januar bis Juni 1945. 2003.
Antill, Peter D. Berlin 1945: End of the Thousand Year Reich. Campaign 159. Osprey Publishing. 2005.
Becker, Heinz. Vor 50 Jahren–die Lankwitzer Bombennacht 1943: Augenzeugen-Berichte und -Fotos zum Gedächtnis an den Luftangriff 23/24. August 1943. Arbeitskreis Historisches Lankwitz. 1993.
Beevor, Antony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking Press. 2002.
Demps, Laurenz. (2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag.
Ethell, Jeffrey and Price, Alfred. (2002). Target Berlin Mission 250: 6 March 1944. Greenhill Books.
Feustel Jan, Köhler Hörst. Lebensader durch Sumpf und Sand, 100 Jahre Teltowkanal. 1. Auflage. Hendrik Bäßler Verlag. 2006.
Friese, Wolfgang. Lankwitz und seine Geschichte. Teil 5: Kloster und Luftangriff. Gabriele Schuster Eigen. 2013.
Hopfe, Christian. Berlin-Steglitz. Die Reihe Archivbilder. Sutton Archivbilder. 2017.
Kunstamt Steglitz (Hrsg.). Alles neu: 50 Jahre Kriegsende in Steglitz. Berlin 1995.
Landesarchiv Berlin; A Rep. 001-02 Nr. 700 ‘Bericht über die Luftangriff’; LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 701, Bl. 34 ff.
Liste der Brücken über den Teltowkanal. Wikiwand.
Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books. 2011.
Simon, Christian. Steglitz im Wandel der Geschichte: vom grössten Dorf Preussens. be.bra-Verlag. Berlin. 1997.
Berliners in front of a radio store listen to news of the invasion of Poland by German forces on September 1, 1939. The capital lived its first experience in aerial warfare when an air siren sounded that evening, the first of many to come. It was a false alarm, probably caused by a single plane straying too close to the city.
A new war had begun, but as Hew Strachan says in “The First World War”: (…) “in 1918 the Germans had also learned what modern warfare entailed. They did not take to the streets to show their enthusiasm when the conflict broke out in 1939” (…) as they had done in 1914 to fire and cheer their soldiers on their way to the front. Hitler had unleashed a war like never seen before and would cost the destruction of Germany and much of Europe and the death of more than 60 million people.
This city is in continuous development and innovation and the past of time is changing the capital, further away from the wounds suffered during the 1939-45 war. The new James-Simon-Galerie, designed by David Chipperfield Architects serves as the new entrance building for Museum Island, completing the ensemble between the Kupfergraben canal and Neues Museum. It is located next to our beloved battle-scarred building at Am Kupfergraben ecke Dorotheenstraße 1 (at left in the first image, see our This is Berlin post).
The new museum is sited on a narrow strip of land where Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s ‘Neuer Packhof’ administration building stood until 1938.
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.
So far in the war, Berlin has not been attacked; there have been some air alarms (the first one on the day the war started, 1 September 1939) but not actual raids, apart from a sole French bomber that made an isolate bombing run on the capital on 7th of June, 1940. Fear of being bombed by the enemy was there nevertheless. This calm was to change on the night of Sunday, August 25, when, shortly after midnight, the capital’s air-raid sirens blazed again, alerting the population from the danger coming from above.It was thesixth air-raid alarm on Berlin since the war outbreak, but this time it wouldn’t be a false alarm.
As we have seen on the previous post, 86 British bombing aircraft took off for Berlin on that evening. So, just 35of thoseclaimed to have attacked their assigned target or an alternative in the Groß Berlin area, the rest failing to locate their objectives due to the heavy overcast. The weather conditions made the attack almost fruitless and most of the crews reported heavy flak and searchlights. RAF targets were the Siemensstadt works complex in the northwestern area, the Klingenberg power station in Rummelsburg and the main airport, Tempelhof.
The official OKWreport summed up the events on the next day listing every bomb hit or damage taken by all the city quarters and suburbs: ‘…for the first time since the beginning of the war, several enemy planes flew over Berlin and threw several incendiary bombs on the outskirts… Neither here nor in Berlin was damage done. One of the planes flying over Berlin was shot down by flak on the way back.’ 
The Abschlußmeldung des Kommandos der Schutzpolizei from that night recorded that main Fliegeralarm sounded in Berlin from 0.19 hours and bomb danger lasted until 03.24 hrs, when the all-clear alarm (‘Entwarnung’) finally sounded, three hours later.
[Artist Paul Nash made in 1941 this watercolour and chalk drawing of Berlin’s RAF first attack. It shows an aerial view of four Whitley bombers in flight over a target area of Berlin.]
First agency report cables of the night were very plain and confusing, reporting that the raid consisted in three waves of bombers (others say four), and that a high number of them was overflying the city’s northern and western suburbs during the three-hour attack. Some witnesses stated that ten heavy explosions were “heard to the North-West of Berlin in the first ten minutes after the air raid alarm was sounded”meanwhile others reported that “just one incendiary bomb [was] dropped and some leaflets”, the bomb was said to have landed on a nursery, where it caused a fire that was quickly extinguished by a gardener. Further strikes were listed on the industrial northern suburbs and first testimonies even talk about raiders overflying the centric Wilhelmstraße.
…but, did RAF bombers actually hit their assigned targets?
[Tuesday August 27th, 1940, Daily Mirror frontpage after the British raided Berlin and Luftwaffe bombings on London the South East, the first air bombings on both cities.]
“First hand taste of aerial warfare” The British were very optimistic about the bombing raid but Berlin suffered minor damage actually, no bombs were dropped or hit on the capital itself apart from some on the outskirts. The number of weapons dropped was virtually insufficient: Prof Demps resumes in 18,6t of explosives and about a hundred 4-lbs fire-bombs the amount of bombs droppedwith most of them targeting open fields in the north and south of Berlin. Some of these fell into several farms -known as ‘Stadtgüter’-owned by the city; quickly the famous Berlin sense of humor came to the rescue: ‘Now they are trying to starve us out’.
Thanks to the German official report, we can be able to list every bomb that hit Berlin on that very first night. In Rosenthal,within Berlin-Pankow district, several incendiary bombs hit the area, falling on some arbors (one of them burned down); they caused some fires too on two residential buildings with minor damage. Also in Pankow, further north in Stadtgut Blankenfelde, some 40 incendiaries were reported with no damage. In the Weißensee district, Stadtgut Malchow was hit by 7 incendiary artifacts. More explosives fell on Wartenberg, causing minor property damage there.
Beyond Berlin city limits, a explosive bomb landed at Selchow and another one in Waßmannsdorf, both located south of the capital near Schönefeld, with no damage. A little bit far from there, four high-explosive bomb were dropped on Deutschwusterhause(sic) in Königs Wusterhausen, Brandenburg state.
Ironically, part of the damage taken by the city’s districts was caused by the local heavy anti-aircraft guns defending the capital. Minor damage to property from Flak shells splinters –Flakgranate– fired against enemy raiders was reported in Dragonerstraße (today’s Max-Beer-Str) in Mitte destroying some windows of the closer buildings andTiergarten (which shattered the window panes of the Rathaus) too. Further damage by shrapnel was reported at Neue Hochstraße Ecke Schulzendorferstr. in the Weddingdistrict, damaging several roofs of residential buildings there.
[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 each circle refers to the number of bombs (HE– black colour; incendiaries– red; flak splinters– orange) reported by German authorities on every district.]
According to a Swedish correspondent the Berliners “took it calmly” and most of the citizens were at home when the warning was given, as the weather had been dull and rainy.
Even so, a total of 11 people resulted injured during the air strike, not from RAF bombs but from splinters from the shells fired by the city anti-aircraft defences during that night, seven of them (one seriously) at Neue Hochstrasse in Wedding and another four in the Mitte district. Finally, some sources stated that one of the bombs killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo during this first raid, an unconfirmed loss.
[This first raid was so important in the morale aspect to London that was widely shared all across the British Empire on the next days, in this case the frontpage of the Hindustan Times, New Delhi newspaper in India.]
Broadcasting the raid At this early time of the war Berlin was still an open city, and several international correspondents reported every day’s life at the Third Reich’s capital. The Berlin correspondent of the Stockholm-based Dagens Nyheter covered the raid on Sunday night reporting that heavy explosions were heard in the German capital and that Unter den Linden was plunged into dead silence when Berlin people took shelter at the warning. Berliners had only taken the raid seriously when anti-aircraft batteries fired back, and went to the shelters, as many had believed the official Nazi-propaganda that no enemy plane would overfly and attack the mighty capital.
The most widely known report from that night is from American journalist William L. Shirer (1904-1993), who was at the time of the raid broadcasting from Berlin on the CBS radio network. Shirer wrote in his diary: ‘We had our first big air-raid of the war last night. The sirens sounded at twelve twenty a.m. and the all-clear came at three twenty-three a.m. For the first time British bombers came directly over the city, and they dropped bombs. The concentration of anti-aircraft fire was the greatest I’ve ever witnessed. It provided a magnificent, a terrible sight. And it was strangely ineffective. Not a plane was brought down; not one was even picked up by the searchlights, which flashed back and forth frantically across the skies throughout the night. The Berliners are stunned. They did not think it could happen. When this war began, Göring assured them it couldn’t. He boasted that no enemy planes could ever break through the outer and inner rings of the capital’s anti-aircraft defence. The Berliners are a naive and simple people. They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it.’ 
[American William L. Shirer from CBS radio, at left, seen at the broadcasting center in Berlin in 1939.]
The raiders dropped more than explosives and incendiaries on Berlin: hundreds of ‘Nickels’ —the British codename for leaflets— fell on the city during the attack. On it, the population of Berlin was requested to realize the futility of the Nazi cause with propaganda messages in German text like “the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does” a straight proclamation headed by “Berliners, Do You Comprehend Now?”. A list of targets in Germany bombed by the RAF in the previous weeks was listed too and also some statistics of the war progress comparing British resources to those of Germany and proclaiming the overwhelming power of the British Empire.
Percival Knauth, the NYT correspondent, described on his cable that ‘[leaflets] were covered with fine print on each side’ and ‘were gathered up by souvenir hunters as rare prizes.’ Shirer added on his diary too: ‘This was good propaganda but the thud of exploding bombs was better…It was an early sign to those in the regime that the war might be longer and more bitter than many had expected.’ 
[Some of the air leaflets, known as ‘Flugblätterabwurf’ by the Germans, dropped by RAF fliers over Berlin during the first air raids on the German capital.]
There are no known pictures of this first air-raid on Berlin or the bomb damage taken by the city’s buildings and streets, something that gonna radically change after the next bombing (Aug 28th) when Joseph Goebbels rushed press journalist into a tour to see the bomb craters and shattered windows in the Kreuzberg district (see our post Bomben auf die Kottbusser Straße). This first air attack had an official German reaction surprisingly muted, the event warranted only a few lines in the local newspapers the next morning after the DNB, the official press agency, released a modest six-line communiqué.
International observers were aware of this correction picture painted by the regime and the press: ‘Today the bombing is the one topic conversation among Berliners. It’s specially amusing therefore to see that Goebbels has permitted the local newspapers to publish only a six-line communiqué about it (…) There is not a line about the explosive bombs which we all plainly heard. Nor is there a word about the three streets in Berlin which have been roped off all day to prevent the curious from seeing what a bomb can do to a house.’ wrote Shirer about the Germans reaction following the bombing.
[This is the front page of the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi party newspaper,on 27 August 1940, accusing the British of using the previous attack on London —intentionally or not— as an excuse to bomb Berlin. Note that this first bombing of the capital was overshadowed by other news of the day.]
[Calm reigns in this Agfacolor colour picture taken in 1940 which shows the Reich government buildings at Berlin-Wilhelmstraße. ‘Ten Heavy Explosions: Raiders above Hitler’s Chancellery’ was one of the optimistic headlines that can be read in some British newspapers on the next day of the raid.]
London turns attack on Berlin into retaliation Following the raid, the RAF admitted to the press on the following days that the attack was not so successful as planned but attributed this to bad weather encountered by attacking crews after poor bombing pattern was evident.Both the Air Ministry and the international press announced that this raid was a reprisal for the German bombing of London on Saturday night and that all the RAF targets were selected military objectives as well as anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight concentrations, meanwhile German authorities said that the heavy explosions heard on downtown Berlin were detonations of anti-aircraft shells and minimized the attack rating it as ‘extremely small.’ ‘Enemy aircraft over Berlin. Several hours of air-raid alarm’ wrote Goebbels in his diary, who on the next day found the mood of its citizens as ‘all of Berlin up in arms.’ The Nazi minister of Propaganda quickly tried to put the attack on behalf of the German cause: ‘Now Berlin too is in the midst of war, and that’s a good thing.’ 
[The Grosskraftwerk Klingenberg in Rummelsburg seen at night some time before the war. Located in the eastern part of Berlin and one of the RAF main targets of that night, not a single bomb hit the power plant or the nearby area. Brightly illuminated on the image, RAF crews found the area on that night in a completely darkened condition due to German blackout regulations to protect the city.]
This first raid left no great damage on Hitler’s capital but the real impact of the attack was the profound moral effect, a serious warning to Berliners of what will comes, a population that as Prof Overy noted ‘had been told repeatedly that German air defences would keep British bombers at bay’  although Jörg Friedrich, author of bestseller Der Brand (‘The fire’)defined the attack as ‘Churchill’s unsuccessful reprisal’.
Two days later, RAF bombers appeared over the capital once again. The German indiscriminate bombings had turned back against the Nazi’s heartland, Berlin.
Notes and Citations:
 DEMPS, Laurenz (Ed). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014. pp 33-34. Berlin Luftterror. The first one: August 25th, 1940;The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Operations Record Books: AIR 27.  see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f.  see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; DEMPS: op. cit. p 238.  The Evening News, Monday, August 26, 1940; ‘most of the noise came from the north, where the armament factories are’: SHIRER, William. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941. Taylor & Francis, 2002. p 489.  C. Brooks Peters wireless to the New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 1.  Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 27, 1940; The Evening News, Monday, August 26, 1940; BRITISHBOMBERSFLYOVERBERLIN by C. Brooks Peters wireless to the New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 2.  DEMPS: op. cit. p 285.  MIDDLEBROOK, Martin and EVERETT, Chris. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation, 1985 (2014 Ed), pp 76-77. MOORHOUSE, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, 2011. p 137.  see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; MOORHOUSE: op. cit. p 136; SHIRER: op. cit. p 489; AP report quoted in New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 1.  see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f.  see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 27, 1940.  Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 27, 1940; Berlin arms factories bombed in three-hour raid,The Guardian, Tuesday, August 27, 1940.  see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; MOORHOUSE: op. cit. p 136. Still today several authors and historians mislead the number of victims, overlapping the casualties and damage of the second raid to this one. Sweeting, C G. Target Berlin: The First Air-Raid on the German Capital <https://www.historynet.com/target-berlin-the-first-air-raid-on-the-german-capital.htm>  The Evening News, Monday, August 26, 1940, page 1; MOORHOUSE: op. cit. p 137.  Shirer continues the narrative: ‘I was at the Rundfunk writing my broadcast when the sirens sounded, and almost immediately the bark of the flak began. Oddly enough, a few minutes before, I had had an argument with the censor from the Propaganda Ministry as to whether it was possible to bomb Berlin. London had just been bombed. It was natural, I said, that the British should try to retaliate. He laughed. It was impossible, he said. There were too many anti-aircraft guns around Berlin.’ SHIRER: op. cit. p 416; MOORHOUSE: op. cit. p 142.  SHIRER, William. Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon and Schuster, 1990. p 778; Nazi Air Blockade is a Failure, Berlin Reads in R.A.F.’s Leaflets, The New York Times, August 28, 1940, page 5.  Percival Knauth wireless to TheNew York Times, August 27, 1940, page 3.  Quoted in TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018. p 165. OVERY, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Penguin, 2014.  SHIRER (2002): op. cit. p 489.  “Listeners in the centre of the city estimated that the bombs were falling about twenty miles away” said the NYT chronicle.Weather Hindered Attack on Berlin,The New York Times, August 27, 1940, page 3; Daily Mirror, August 26th, 1940.  The Guardian, Tuesday, August 27, 1940; The Times’s aeronautical correspondent cautions that: ‘It should not be imagined for a moment that Sunday night’s raids on the outskirts of Berlin were intended as a “tit-for-tat” reprisal for the indiscriminate bombing of London during the week-end. Whereas the German aircraft jettisoned their bombs with little or no regard for direction or what they were going to hit, the R.A.F. raids were directed against definite military objectives, which had been singled out for attack some time before.’ Tuesday, 27 August 1940. Airminded<https://airminded.org/2010/08/27/tuesday-27-august-1940/>; The Hindustian Times, Tuesday, August 27, 1940.  C. Brooks Peters wireless to The New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 1; Völkischer Beobachter, 27. Aug. 1940, Nr. 240; MOORHOUSE: op. cit. p 137.  Quoted in FRIEDRICH, Jörg. Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Ullstein Heyne List, 2002. pp 52-55; OVERY: op. cit.; FRÖHLICH, Elke. Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Sämtliche Fragmente. Teil 1. Band. 4: 1940-1941. Saur, 1987 p 296.  OVERY: op. cit.  FRIEDRICH: op. cit. p 55.
Bowman, Martin. (2015). Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation.
BRITISHBOMBINGSURVEYUNIT (1998).The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939 - 1945 - The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Frank Cass.
Davis, Richard G. (2006). Bombing the European Axis Powers A Historical Digest of the Combined Bomber Offensive 1939–1945. Air University Press. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
Frankland, Noble. (1970). Bomber Offensive: The Devastation of Europe, Ballantine Books.
Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 65–78. 1982.
Wildt, Michael and Kreutzmueller, Christoph. (2013). Berlin 1933-1945 - Stadt und Gesellschaft im Nationalsozialismus. Siedler Verlag.
‘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 prelude: London During the early phase of the ‘Battle of Britain’ in the summer of 1940, the Third Reich attacked RAF aerodromes and their personnel in order to annihilate Great Britain’s air defences and some industrial areas on British cities. Suddenly, on the night of August 24th, some Luftwaffe bombers drop, probably by mistake, some bombs over the City of London. Next day, Prime Minister Churchill with full consent of the War Cabinet ordered an action to revenge the honour of the British citizens. He have warned the RAF to had the capability to reply immediately against Berlin in case of a German raid on London.
How many aircraft subsequently participated in the actual raid on the night of 25/26 August 1940 has been open to speculation. The early campaign of Bomber Command has been rather neglected by aviation historians and this very first raid is often briefly cited on every RAF bombing war study as an introduction, usually with a few words and wrong description. Records for that period not always make it clear exactly how many bombers participated so available sources gives us a variety of figures: Bomber Command’s operational reference book (Middlebrook, 1985) shows an overall figure of the night sorties: ‘103 aircraft were dispatched on operations and approximately half of these were sent to Berlin.’ In the case of Donnelly, former RAF air gunner, shows a detailed breakdown of the night operations and every loss against Berlin, but exact distribution of the assigned forces with a total figure of 89 assigned bombers was inaccurate. Author Martin Bowman gives us a more accurate chronicle of the night figures on his various books about Bomber Command operations, detailing ‘About fifty attacked, 7 aborted, 29 claimed to have bombed Berlin and a further 27 overflew the German capital but were unable to pinpoint their targets because of thick cloud.’  For their part Tweddle, in one of the few books focused just about the RAF “bombing boys” during the 1940 summer days, only refers to the ‘twenty-two Whitleys tasked to attack the vast and crucial Siemens works’. On the German historians’ side, the most detailed study of the air bombings on Berlin, lead by Dr Laurenz Demp referred the number of attacking bombers as just 22, meanwhile author Jorg Friedrich, in his bestseller ‘Der Brand’ stated that ‘he [Churchill] sent fifty Hampdens and Wellingtons [to Berlin]’.
[No. 149 Squadron aircrews approach a line of Vickers Wellington bombers at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk before a bombing sortie.]
Careful research of the primary sources of the period —the Squadron’s operations record books (ORBs)— allow us to determine for the first time the number of bombers that London sortied on that night to attack the Reich’s capital and their times over target.
To reach Berlin, British aircraft had five times as far to travel as German aircraft had to bomb London, in a round trip of eight hours and 1,200 miles, close to the maximum range of the Wellington and Hampden bombers with full tanks and minimal bomb load. It was an ambitious raid and a very hazardous one: no one knew at the time what defences the bombers would meet over the ‘Big City’, so it was decided to make a total effort and Bomber Command assigned this operation to three of its ‘heavy’ bomb groups.
That afternoon, the different bombing groups based in East Anglia and Norfolk received its attacking orders: the crews of No 3 Group (equipped with Wellington bombers) received Order Form B.250 tasking:“To cause maximum damage to Targets given in Para ‘G’ and to create maximum disturbance over Germany during the hours of Darkness”. Primary target for this force (17 bombers) was the Siemens & Halske works (coded as G.161 by the Air Ministry) in the northwestern part of the city. Their secondary target was A.389 (Tempelhof ‘s oil deposits).
No 4 Group’s three squadrons, equipped with Armstrong Whitley long-range bombers, were given Operations Order No. 154 at 17.00 hrs “to inflict maximum damage on SIEMENSSCHUCKERTWERKEBERLIN” and readied twenty-four more bombers for this duty. Primary target was G.225 (Siemens Schukert works) with Tempelhof marshalling yards (coded M499) as alternative. Bomb load was two 500-lb, five 250-lb GP bombs (one of those with fused delay) and one container of incendiaries on each Whitley.
Meanwhile the third group, the Hampden force under No. 5 Group received Order B. 201 tasking with “destroy power station B57 and aerodrome H324” which means that targets were the Klingenberg power station in the eastern part of the city and the main airport of the capital, Tempelhof. This Group put up 46twin-engined bombers from 6 squadrons for the mission, more than any other.
‘Berlin arms factories bombed in three-hour raid’ Just before dust, No 149 Sqn sortied eight of its Wellington medium bombers from RAF Mildenhall led by Squadron Leader D A Kerr from 2050 hrs to hit the Reich capital but Squadron’s ORB just described “mission carried out safely” as mission report. It would appear that one of them (T2459) had some trouble because of her early recorded landing time, which made impossible to have reached Berlin and back. At RAF Newmarket aerodrome in Suffolk, nine more ‘Wimpys’ on 99 Sqn were also getting airborne between 20.15 and 23.27 hrs and bounded for Klingenberg power station. Six of them failed to locate any target under the thick clouds and brought back their bombs. Just one bomber (P9243, piloted by P/O Chown) bombed Tempelhof, dropping 250-lb bombs and 4-lb incendiaries on it. The remaining two attacked targets in Schwerte.
[A trio of Vickers Wellington Mk IC bombers of No 149 Squadron in flight in ‘vic’ formation, August 1940. The nearest aircraft, R3206 coded OJ-M and piloted by P/O Sherwood, was one of the participants in the first British raid on the Nazi-capital.]
Berlin was a familiar target for Whitley crews from 4 Group based in North Yorkshire, but this would be its first one onto the offensive dropping bombs and not only propaganda leaflets. No 78 Squadron assigned five bombers to this raid: they began taking off from RAF Dishforth at around 20.00 but encountered 10/10 clouds and no targets were located; none of them dropped their bombs. F/O Robertson crew dropped some leaflets on the target area. From this station, also departed eight Whitleys of No 51 Sqn to bomb Berlin with mixed results: one bombed “the Messerschmitt factory S.W. of Oranienberg (sic) prison camp” (there were no Messerschmitt facilities at Oranienburg, author’s note) and another attacked “a small factory 12 miles N.W. of Berlin”. The others bring their bombs back to base failing to locate any target, and another one had to abort the trip because of magneto trouble. All of them reported very poor weather and cloud cover. A ninth bomber failed to take off and abort the mission.
[Bombing crews of No 58 Squadron undergo a briefing by the Station Commander in the Operations Room at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, prior to a night raid in August 1940.]
Finally, from RAF Linton-on-Ouse flying station took off ten Whitley bombers of No 58 Squadron from 20 hrs to attack “Seimens (sic) electrical works”. Two claimed to bomb the target on ETA (estimated time) and another attacked a flak battery NW Berlin, meanwhile another one bombed a concentration of lights in the woods NE of the capital. Two failed to recognize the target and brought the bombs back. All of them dropped leaflets and returned safely to base. A further three aborted their mission and returned early for mechanical failures. The tenth bomber attacked a target of opportunity in Bremen.
[A Whitley Mark V bomber of No 58 Squadron RAFbeing ‘bombed up’ with 500-lb GP bombs at Linton-on-Ouse station.]
Adverse weather conditions hampered the main bombing effort by 5 Group’s Hampdens force. At RAF Scampton, 49 Squadron contributed 12 Hampdens and 83 Sqn, eleven more to the raid. Loaded with four 500-lb GP-bombs each and according to mission times planned, these two squadrons would be the first over Berlin on that evening.
No 49’s raiders arrived over the capital in poor visibility:four aircraft claimed to have made successful bombing runs on Klingenberg and rest of the force, unable to locate it, dive-bombed several SEMO targets. Mission leader Wing Commander Gillan, DFC, bombed a marshalling yard SE of the city and another crew attacked a furnace blast near B.57 area. None of them observed the results of their bombing; another crew returned to base with bombs aboard.
For their part, 83 Sqn raid was a total failure with just two crews claiming to have bombed the target; another attacked a railway line south of target. Two others dropped the bombs on Furstenwalde aerodrome (55 km east of Berlin) and on a viaduct at Westerhausen.
Stationed in Waddington, 44 Squadron was assigned “to destroy power station B.57” with 6 aircraft taking off at intervals from 21.15 hrs on that night. Four of those claimed to have bombed Klingenberg with 500-lb bombs with unobserved results and another attacked the secondary, Tempelhof. The remaining Hampden (P4371), unable to locate the target, finally bombed the aircraft factory in Berlin-Johannisthal.
[Hampdens Mk Is of No 44 Squadron in flight, note ‘KM’ codes painted on the fuselage. This unit dispatched six bombers to attack the Reich’s capital on this night. Hampden AE257KM-X was lost on the night of 21/22 October 1941 flying to Bremen.]
Further north, the Hemswell squadrons were to target Tempelhof, specially the important hangars along the North side of the aerodrome: 61 Sqn launched six Handley Page bombers as night fell with two of them claiming to have bombed the target without visibility, two more failed to locate it, and another one bombed Kangsdorf (Donnelly refers here to Pangsdorf aerodrome, 15 miles S of Berlin). The remaining bomber was forced to return early due to aileron vibration. The attack was coordinated with the 144 Squadron, whose six crews achieved poor results too: three of them reached the city but were unable to locate the targets due to 10/10 clouds and the other three back to base with mechanical troubles.
Finally, 50 Squadron would put up 5 aircraft from RAF Lindholme but just two of them claimed to have attacked target B.57 and another bombed a heavy flak site and searchlights NE of the city.
First losses This first Bomber Command raid on Berlin did not come away unscathed. Crews faced very adverse weather and strong head wind was encountered on the return flight and no less than six ‘mediums’, all from the Hampden force (already at their range limit) failed to return to their bases: Hampden P4416 of 49 Sqn (P/O Fawcett crew) was lost without trace; this was the first Allied crew to lose their lives on a bombing raid aiming Berlin. Fuel starvation made P/O Wawn crew aboard 50 Squadron’s P2070 to force-landed near Lautersheim in Rheinland-Platz and all were made prisoners by the Germans, meanwhile P2124 from the same unit ditched out of fuel off Scarbarough Pier at 07.50 h. Finally, three bombers from No 83 were lost when they crashed (or ditched) back in England after ran out of fuel too (P1354, P4380 and X2895), with all their crew members rescued safely. There was no Nachtjagd reaction to this first important raid due to adverse weather conditions.
[One of theHampdens lost during this raid was P2070VN-Xof No 50 Squadron. They took off from RAF Lindholme at 21.58 hrs and is assumed that had to force landing due to fuel starvation near Lautersheim, Germany, during the return flight.]
While British air forces droned over Berlin, Luftwaffe bombers were heading to England where they made sixty-five raids attacking industrial centres in the midlands by midnight, bombs fell on forty places, including Birmingham, Coventry and towns in southern England, South Wales and Scotland without suffering any loss.
Overall, 86 bombing aircraft took to the air on that evening to bring destruction to he Nazi’s heartland as part of a 103-aircraft force. Of these, it seems that 57 reached and overflown the city but just 35claimed to have attacked their assigned target or an alternative in the Berlin area, the rest failing to locate their objectives due to the heavy overcast. The weather conditions made the attack almost fruitless and most of the crews reported heavy flak and searchlights. Bomber Command’s cost was six bombers, 4 airmen killed, two wounded, and 4 POW.
On the next day, the Air Ministry made a communiqué about the operation which was repeated on every paper across the island: ‘Operations in the Berlin area last night were hampered by poor weather conditions. Selected military objectives were attacked, as well as anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight concentrations on the outskirts of the German capital.‘  The night raid has been mostly frustrating as Guy Gibson, then a young flying officer, resumed later: ‘The raid was in fact lousy. There was thick cloud over the target itself and I don’t suppose more than ten bombs actually landed in Berlin.’ Others were more excited about the action: 21-year old New Zealander James Bracegirdle wrote to a journalist: ‘We went over Berlin and, boy, am I proud! this was the first time Berlin had been raided and, though the RAF has been over since, I am able to say that I went on the first raid’ .
It would be the first of many to Berliners and RAF crews.
[A fine study portrait of Squadron leader O E Wiltshear, DFC, who was a rear gunner in the first attack on Berlin on the night of 25th August 1940.]
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 (today Zagan, Poland), about 100 miles southeast from Berlin. He executed it on the night of March 24/25, 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 German 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 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) 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.”
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 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. 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.