Yanks!

On July 4th, 1942, RAF Bomber 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 Boston AL741 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.]

[Photo: American Air Museum FRE_915.]

[Photo: American Air Museum FRE_916.]

[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.”]

[Photo: American Air Museum UPL 33044.]

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.


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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.
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    Previous post >


    Bombers over Berlin!

    Bombers over Berlin, London…

    while Hitler’s bombers were making another raid on the London area early today, R.A.F. bombs shook Berlin.’ 
    – Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 26, 1940 –

    Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung (00011855).

    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.[1] 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 the sixth 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 35 of those claimed 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.[2]

    The official OKW report 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.’ [3]

    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.[4]

    [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.]

    Photo: © IWM Art. LD 827.

    [“Berlin Raided by British Planes” reads the frontpage headline of the American The New York Times newspaper the following morning of the first RAF bombing of Berlin, 26 August 1940.]  

    Photo: The New York Times, Monday, August 26, 1940.

    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”[5] 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.[6] Further strikes were listed on the industrial northern suburbs and first testimonies even talk about raiders overflying the centric Wilhelmstraße.[7]

    …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.]

    Photo: John Frost newspapers/ Alamy.

    “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 dropped[8] with 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’.[9] 

    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.[10] 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.[11] 

    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 and Tiergarten (which shattered the window panes of the Rathaus) too. Further damage by shrapnel was reported at Neue Hochstraße Ecke Schulzendorferstr. in the Wedding district, damaging several roofs of residential buildings there.[12]  

    [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.]

    Source: LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f. Map design by Pablo Minuti.

    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.[13]

    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.[14] Finally, some sources stated that one of the bombs killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo during this first raid, an unconfirmed loss.[15] 

    [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.]

    Photo: Hindustan Times. HT This Day: August 27, 1940.

    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.[16]

    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
    .’ [17]

    [American William L. Shirer from CBS radio, at left, seen at the broadcasting center in Berlin in 1939.] 

    Photo: Don Congdon Associates.

    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.[18]

    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.’ [19] 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. [20]

    [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.]

    Photo: TNA AIR-27-1005.

    Photo: TNA AIR-27-1005.

    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.[21]

    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.[22]

    [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.]

    Photo: Zeitungsauschnitte zur Berliner Kriegschronik/ A Rep. 021-02 Nr. 123.

    [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.]

    Photo by Sobotta. Berlin in frühen Farbdias 1936 bis 1943. Sutton Verlag, 2013.

    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.[23] 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,[24] 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.’[25] 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.’ [26] 

    [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.]

    Photo: © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg (Nr. 822.953).

    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’ [27] although Jörg Friedrich, author of bestseller Der Brand (‘The fire’) defined the attack as ‘Churchill’s unsuccessful reprisal.[28] 

    Two days later, RAF bombers appeared over the capital once again. The German indiscriminate bombings had turned back against the Nazi’s heartland, Berlin. 

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    Notes and Citations:

    [1] DEMPS, Laurenz (Ed). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014. pp 33-34.
    [2] Berlin Luftterror. The first one: August 25th, 1940; The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Operations Record BooksAIR 27.
    [3] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f.
    [4] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; DEMPSop. cit. p 238.
    [5] 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.
    [6] C. Brooks Peters wireless to the New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 1.
    [7] Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 27, 1940; The Evening News, Monday, August 26, 1940; BRITISH BOMBERS FLY OVER BERLIN by C. Brooks Peters wireless to the New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 2.
    [8] DEMPSop. cit. p 285.
    [9] 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.
    [10] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 136; SHIRER: op. cit. p 489; AP report quoted in New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 1.
    [11] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f.
    [12] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 27, 1940.
    [13] Daily Mirror, Tuesday, August 27, 1940; Berlin arms factories bombed in three-hour raid,The Guardian, Tuesday, August 27, 1940.
    [14] see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f; MOORHOUSEop. 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.
    [15] 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>
    [16] The Evening News, Monday, August 26, 1940, page 1; MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 137.
    [17] 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; MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 142.
    [18] 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.
    [19] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, August 27, 1940, page 3.
    [20] Quoted in TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018. p 165.
    [21] OVERY, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Penguin, 2014.
    [22] SHIRER (2002): op. cit. p 489.
    [23] “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. 
    [24] 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.
    [25] C. Brooks Peters wireless to The New York Times, August 26, 1940, page 1; Völkischer Beobachter, 27. Aug. 1940, Nr. 240; MOORHOUSEop. cit. p 137.
    [26] Quoted in FRIEDRICH, Jörg. Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Ullstein Heyne List, 2002. pp 52-55; OVERYop. cit.; FRÖHLICH, Elke. Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Sämtliche Fragmente. Teil 1. Band. 4: 1940-1941. Saur, 1987 p 296.
    [27] OVERYop. cit.
    [28] FRIEDRICHop. cit. p 55. 

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    Bibliography:

    • Bowman, Martin. (2015). Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation.
    • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT (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.

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    Previous post >


    “Back from Berlin”

    ‘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…’

    – Winston S Churchill – 

    Photo: © IWM (HU 104669).

    As seen before, RAF Bomber 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.]

    Photo: © IWM (HU 104670).

    Photo: © British Pathé (FILM ID:1055.27).

    [A copy of 115 Squadron ORB describing the mission to Berlin: 28/29 August 1940.]

    Photo: TNA AIR 27/887-20 © Crown Copyright.

     [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.]

    Photo: Fox Photos/ Getty images.

    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.’

    Photo: © British Pathé (FILM ID:1055.27).

    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.]

    Photo by Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos.

    [This photo, taken by a Planet News photographer, shows Wellington bomber crews recreating their return to the base after the first raid on Berlin, which took place on the night of 25/26 August 1940.]

    Photo: © IWM (HU 104668).

    [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.’]

    [Photo: Hulton Archive / Getty images.]

    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.

    [Video credit: © British Pathé (FILM ID:1055.27).]


    Squadron and dates info thanks to Mark Every, Marham Aviation Heritage Centre - AHC.

    _______________

    Sources and Bibliography:

  • Bowman, Martin. (2016). Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. 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. 
  • Churchill, Winston. (1949). Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin.
  • 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.
  • Middlebrook, Martin. (2014). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. (2011). Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London.
  • Overy, Richard. (2013). The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record Books: AIR 27/887-20.
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982.
  • Ward, Chris. (2008). 3 Group Bomber Command. An operational record. Pen & Sword Aviation.
  • _______________

    Previous post >


    The first one: August 25th, 1940

    They had bombed London, whether on purpose or not, and the British people and London especially should know that we could hit back. It would be good for the morale of us all’.

    – Winston S Churchill – 

    Photo: © IWM (H-3514).

    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.[1] 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.[2]

    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.[3] 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)[4] 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.[5] 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.’ [6] For their part Tweddle[7], 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[8] 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]’.[9]

    [No. 149 Squadron aircrews approach a line of Vickers Wellington bombers at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk before a bombing sortie.]

    Photo: © IWM (C 424).

    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.[10]

    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”.[11] 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).[12]

    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 SIEMENS SCHUCKERT WERKE BERLIN” 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.[13]

    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.[14] This Group put up 46 twin-engined bombers from 6 squadrons for the mission, more than any other.

    Photo: TNA AIR-27-793. © Crown Copyright.

     [This British vertical PR photograph shows the northern part of the Berlin-Tempelhof airport, which contains the main aircraft hangars and maintenance installations, next to the main airfield.]

    Photo: NCAP hhttp://ncap.org.uk/NCAP-000-000-009-016.

    ‘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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 

    [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.]

    Photo: © IWM (HU 107812).

    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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

    [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.]

    Photo: © IWM (CH 218).

    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.[21] 

    [A Whitley Mark V bomber of No 58 Squadron RAF being ‘bombed up’ with 500-lb GP bombs at Linton-on-Ouse station.]

    Photo: © IWM (CH 227).

    [As night falls a Whitley bomber, powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, leaves its home station for its mission and set course for the target.]

    Photo: © IWM (CH 244).

    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.[22] 

    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.[23] 

    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.[24] 

    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.[25] 

    [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 AE257 KM-X was lost on the night of 21/22 October 1941 flying to Bremen.]

    Photo: © IWM (CH 3481).

    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).[26] The remaining bomber was forced to return early due to aileron vibration.[27] 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.[28] 

    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.[29]

    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[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] There was no Nachtjagd reaction to this first important raid due to adverse weather conditions.[34] 

    [One of the Hampdens lost during this raid was P2070 VN-X of 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.]

    Photo: Aircrewremembered/ Michel Beckers.

    Photo: Aircrewremembered/ Michel Beckers.

    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.[35]

    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 35 claimed 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.‘ [36] 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’ .[37]

    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.]

    Photo: © IWM (CH_012278).

    But what happened in Berlin after the attack thousands of feet below the RAF crews and their bombing runs? In our next post we will describe the effects of the air raid and its consequences.

    _______________

    Notes and Citations:

    [1] This was probably not intentional, as it was in defiance of Hitler’s strict instructions that central London should not be attacked. There are some reports of Luftwaffe bombs hitting London suburbs areas a few days earlier. Birmingham, Portsmouth and Manchester were also bombed. SMITH, J Richard and CREEK, Eddie J. (2004). Kampfflieger Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Two: July 1940-December 1941. Classic Publications, p 109; History of Manston Airfield. Heavy Luftwaffe raids on Manston and Ramsgate on 24th August 1940 leave the airfield unserviceable <https://www.manstonhistory.org.uk/heavy-luftwaffe-raids-on-manston-and-ramsgate-on-24th-august-1940-leave-the-airfield-unserviceable/>; DONELLY, 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, p 108.
    [2] He wrote: (..) “The War Cabinet was much in the mood to hit back, to raise the stakes, and to defy the enemy. I was sure they were right, and believed that nothing impressed or disturbed Hitler so much as his realization of British wrath and will-power. In his heart he was one of our admirers.”  in CHURCHILL, Winston. (1949). Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin.
    [3] A good example of this is Osprey’s latest “Battle of Berlin” air campaign book, which reserves just one line of text to the 1940 summer raids on Berlin, focusing only in the 1943 bombings onwards. WORRALL, Richard.(2019). Battle of Berlin 1943–44: Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Air Campaign 11. Osprey Publishing.
    [4] MIDDLEBROOK, Martin and EVERETT, Chris. (1985). The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014 Ed, p 77.
    [5] DONELLYop. cit. pp 110-1.
    [6] BOWMAN, Martin. (2011). Bomber Command. Cover of Darkness 1939 - May 1942. Volume: 1. Pen & Sword Aviation, p 69.
    [7] TWEDDLE, Paul. (2018). The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, pp 160-6.
    [8] DEMPS, Laurenz.(2014). Luftangriffe auf Berlin. Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle. Ch. Links Verlag, p 238.
    [9] FRIEDRICH, Jörg. (2002). Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Ullstein Heyne List, p 52.
    [10] The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Operations Record Books: AIR 27. © Crown Copyright.
    [11] see TNA AIR-27-1005. In the order was also mentioned that “Minimum of two bundles and maximum of six Bundles of Nickels [leaflets, author’s note] are to be carried by each sortie and should be dropped in a Populous Area adjacent to the objectives of bombing.” 
    [12] ibid.
    [13] see TNA AIR-27-485-21.
    [14] see TNA AIR-27-453_2.
    [15] see TNA AIR-27-1000-22; NAPIER, Michael. (2020). Vickers Wellington Units of Bomber Command (Combat Aircraft Book 133). Osprey Publishing, p 32.
    [16] ibid.
    [17] see TNA AIR-27-788-20.
    [18] On the night of October 1st, 1939, some Whitleys of No 10 RAF Squadron were sent to Berlin to drop thousands of propaganda leaflets over the city, the first aircraft that overflown it since the outbreak of the war. To read more see Barron Maps Blog: <http://barronmaps.com/flying-visit-of-truth-to-berlin-1939/>
    [19] see TNA AIR-27-660-4.
    [20] see TNA AIR-27-491-22.
    [21] see TNA AIR-27-543-20.
    [22] see TNA AIR-27-453_2.
    [23] see TNA AIR-27-480-20. A SEMO (Self Evident Military Objectives) was the regular choice when crews were unable to locate the primary and secondary targets.
    [24] see TNA AIR-27-686-16.
    [25] see TNA AIR-27-447-22.
    [26] see TNA AIR-27-453_2; DONELLYop. cit. p 110. The crew must be referring to the Rangsdorf aerodrome in Teltow-Brandenburg or the nearby Bücker Flugzeugbau aircraft factory.
    [27] see TNA AIR-27-576-18.
    [28] see TNA AIR-27-980-17.
    [29] see TNA AIR-27-485-20.
    [30] MIDDLEBROOKEVERETTop. cit. p 77.
    [31] see TNA AIR-27-480-19. P/O N B Fawcett, Sgt J C Clarke, Sgt J Baker and AC1 G Reay were all declared missing in action. CHORLEYWR.(2013) RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications. 2nd edition, p 192.
    [32] CHORLEYop. cit. p 192. Wawn’s crew was the first one to go into captivity whilst engaged on a raid on Berlin during the war. See also Aircrew remembered <http://aircrewremembered.com/wawn-robert.html>
    [33] DONELLYop. cit. p 111. The pilot of P1354 ditched off Grimsby and the crew spent 7 hours in a dinghy before being rescued. CHORLEYop. cit. p 192; TWEDDLEop. cit. p 162.
    [34] BOITEN, Theo. (2018). Nachtjagd Combat Archive. The early years Part 1. 1939-12 July 1941. Red Kite, p 24. Interestingly there was no German Flak claim neither but Berlin reports the following day noted that one raider was hit and shot down by AA fire: see LAB, A Rep. 001-02, Nr. 700, Bl. 2 f.
    [35] SUNDAY 25 AUGUST 1940. Battle of Britain Historical Society <https://battleofbritain1940.com/entry/sunday-25-august-1940/>; DONELLYop. cit. p 110.
    [36] ‘Berlin arms factories bombed in three-hour raid’, The Guardian, Tue 27 Aug 1940.
    [37] Quoted in TWEDDLEop. cit. p 165; in a letter to the Auckland Star newspaper, ibid.

    _______________

    Bibliography:

    • Bowman, Martin. (2015). Voices in flight: The Heavy Bomber Offensive of WWII. Pen & Sword Aviation.
    • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT (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.
    • Hastings, Max. (2011). Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945. Vintage Books
    • Hewitt, Kenneth. “Proving Grounds of Urbicide: Civil and Urban Perspectives on the Bombing of Capital Cities”. ACME · January 2009.
    • Koch, H W. The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany: the Early Phase, May – September 1940. In: The Historical Journal, Volume 34, Issue 1, March 1991, pp. 117 - 141.
    • Tress H B. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982. 
    • Ward, Chris. (2007). 5 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books. 
    • Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. (2009). 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books.
    • Williston, Floyd. (1996).Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many who Failed to ReturnGSPH.

    _______________

    Previous post >


    Big X!

    THE GREAT ESCAPE

    Tonight marks the 75th anniversary of the famous Great Escape’, the massive jailbreak from a German prisoners camp by Allied airmen in Poland.

    [Squadron Leader Richard Churchill, RAF bomber pilot, seen here through the entrance of one of the three tunnels digged. He was the last survivor of the escape, died aged 99 last February.]

    [Photo: Meserole, Mike. The Great Escape. Tunnel to freedom. Young Voyageur. 2017.]

    The plan, conceived by RAF Squadron 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.]

    [Photo: BBC.]

    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.]

    [Photo: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).]


    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.]

    [Photo: Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF).]

    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.]

    [Photo: © IWM (HU 1592).]

    [The grave of Flying Officer Denys O Street at the 1939-1945 War Cemetery in Berlin-Heerstraße.]

    [Photo: Find a grave.com.]

    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. 


    _______________

    Source:

    • 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.
    • Bryett, Alan. (Oral history). Imperial War Museums. Item: 27051. © IWM.
    • The Part I Played in the Great Escape by Alan Bryett. WW2 People´s War. BBC. <https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/13/a3972413.shtml>
    • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
    • Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.
    • Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
    • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
    • The Great Escape. Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF). 2019. <https://www.rafbf.org/great-escape/>
    • Wilson, Kevin. Bomber Boys: The RAF Offensive of 1943. Cassell. 2006.

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    Previous post >


    Evacuad Madrid!

    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.

    Congratulations and thank you.

    [Photo by Álvaro Minguito.]

    [Photo by the author.]

    [Photo by Álvaro Minguito.]

    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.]

    [Photo by the author.]

    [Madrid boys next to an unexploded Nationalist’s howitzer shell that landed at Gran Via avenue. 1937.]

    [Photo by Mayo. Centro de Historia Social del siglo XX, Universidad de París-1, fondo André Marty.]

    [Three Republican I-16 Mosca fighters, manned by Soviet pilots, flying over Madrid’s calle Alcalá during a patrol flight to defend the capital against enemy raids.]

    [Photo by Robert Capa. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos.]

    [Debris and destruction after an Italo-German air raid at Puerta del Sol in Madrid city. 1937.]

    [A German Junkers Ju 52 bomber in flight, 3./K88, from Legion Condor, in 1937.]

    [Photo: Thomas Gordon, Morgan-Witts Max. El día que murió Guernica. Plaza & Janés, 1976.]



    www.madridbombardeado.es
    Twitter: @madrid1936_1939


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    ‘Cookie’ delivery to Berlin

    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.]

    [Photo by William Vandivert. Life Magazine © Time Inc.]

    [Another aerial view of bombed-out Schöneberg and Nollendorfkiez districts in Berlin. In this case Lützowplatz is shown looking south. This oblique shot and the previous one were taken by William Vandivert, famous American photographer and co-founder of Magnum Photos agency in 1947. In July 1945 he was the first Western photojournalist to photograph the ruined and defeated Nazi-Berlin and his photos were published in LIFE magazine.]

    [Photo by William Vandivert. Life Magazine © Time Inc.]

    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, W5439OJ-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.]

    [Photo: © IWM (C 1888).]

    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.]

    [Photo: Middlebrook, M. The Berlin Raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassel & Co. 1988.]

    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.]

    [Photo: RAF Museum.]

    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, W4198QR-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.]

    [Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

    During the ‘Battle of Berlin’ (August 1943 – March 1944) RAF Bomber Command dropped 6,811 of the 4,000-pounder version and 53 of the even larger 8,000-pounders ‘blockbusters’, in 19 major raids on the capital.

    Some sources say that 500 people were killed when a 4,000 ‘pounder’ hit a public shelter in the basement of the Joachimstal Schule on 22 November 1943. The psychological effect and lethality of the ‘Blockbusters’ reached even their ‘droppers’: this is an extract from the memories of Sergeant O Roberts (Prisoner of War), a British gunner in No 49 Sqn shot down over Berlin on the night of 2/3 December 1943: “(…) I stayed in this hospital [the Hermann Göring Luftwaffe Hospital at Unter den Linden] for a further two weeks, and was there on the night of 16 December when Bomber Command paid another visit to Berlin. The sirens sounded and I was taken to the air-raid shelter with the other patients. I was sitting on a bunk bed in the shelter when a ‘Cookie’ dropped outside. It didn’t whistle; it rattled on the way down and shook all the building when it exploded.”

    First use of those larger versions of the blast-bomb on or near Berlin was during this campaign, on the night of 2/3 December 1943 when six 8,000-pounders were dropped, carried in the extra-large bomb-bays of the Lancasters Mk II of No 115 Squadron.

    [This Mark II DS689/’OW-S’, equipped with Bristol Hercules radial air-cooled engines and bulged bomb-bay doors to carry the large ‘Super-cookies’, flied with RCAF No 426 Sqn several missions over Berlin until it was lost during a raid on Stuttgart on 7/8 December 1943.]

    [Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

    [February 1944. Effects of an 8,000-lb ‘Super-cookie’ bomb dropped in a Berlin suburb during one of RAF Bomber Command’s attacks. This photograph, taken by No 106 (PR) Wing RAF a month after the bomb was dropped, shows the bombed site after considerable clearances. The ends of damaged buildings have been squared off and the crater surface levelled over. The visible area of destruction extends to approximately 14 acres over which buildings are seen to have been damaged by blast, as revealed by re-roofing and repairs.]

    [Photo: Australian War Memorial (SUK11940).]

    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.]

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12621).]

    [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.]

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12624).]

    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.

    [Photo by the author.]

    [Photo: http://www.awesomeexplorations.com/hitlers-towers/].

    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.

    [Photo: Holger Weinandt / Wikimedia.]

    [Photo: BBC.]


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    Sources and Bibliography:

    • Airminded. Airpower and British society, 1908-1941. The first Blockbuster. <https://airminded.org/2012/11/14/the-first-blockbuster/>
    • Air Ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
    • The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
    • Bowman. Martin W. Mosquito Bomber/Fighter-Bomber Units 1942–45. Combat Aircraft. Osprey Publishing. 2013. 
    • Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
    • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
    • Boyd, David. 4000lb High Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
    • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
    • Fahey, John. Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney. 2004.
    • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
    • Johnson, George. The last British Dambuster: one man’s extraordinary life and the raids that changed history. Ebury Press. 2014.
    • Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.
    • Middlebrook, Martin. The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co. 1988.
    • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
    • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
    • The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.
    • Worral, Richard. (2019). BATTLE OF BERLIN  1943–44. Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Osprey Publishing. 

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    Ruined Berlin in Valery Faminsky’s eyes (II)

    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.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Three ‘Ivans’ smile to camera with the Siegessäule column as a trophy background.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Soviet troops with a heavy tank IS-2 with Gen Albrecht Graf von Roon’s statue behind at Großer Stern, Straße des 17. Juni.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [The new conquerors of the German capital began their domain over the city, here we see the reading of the surrender in the streets, 8 May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A group of Russian officers and soldiers at Oberbaumbrücke.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A view of Falckensteinstraße after the war.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A Soviet officer posing for a snapshot next to the Siegessäule am Charlottenburger Chaussee, heute Straße des 17. Juni.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [The same officer stands in front of the ruined structure of Alexanderplatz Bahnhof.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Another Soviet officer poses in front of one of the lion statues at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Nationaldenkmals. Notice bullet damage on the lion’s pedestal and the destroyed Dom at extreme left.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [More Soviet soldiers at the Kaiser-Wilhelm monument.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [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).]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Three Red Army members stands at Ebertstraße, posing in front of the remains of the destroyed Brandenburger Tor.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A German FlaK 37/41 AA gun used as an anti-tank weapon in front of the Reichstag. Note that the barrel gun has been destroyed.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Unloading a wounded soldier at the field hospital at Friedrichstraße-Ritterstraße.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Soviet troops salutes their Red banner during a victory parade at Scheidemnanstraße, Platz der Republik, outside of the destroyed Reichstag on 20 May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Russian soldiers playing a captured piano in Berlin streets.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Berlin, Alexanderplatz, the Georgenkirche can be seen in the background of the photo.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]




    All photos: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.


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    Ruined Berlin in Valery Faminsky’s eyes

    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.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Another view of the destroyed Berlin Reichstag building, looking East.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Ruined Waldermarstraße.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Civilians and their families fled the city, Schlesischer Bahnhof, 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Bomb craters and trenches among rubble near Kroll Opera, Berlin. Smoke columns rises from recent street fightings.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [An old-woman among destruction at Pfarrstraße, Berlin.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Roßstraßenbrücke at Wallstraße. Note bombed out apartments in the background.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A panorama view of the ruined Roßstraßenbrücke at Wallstraße.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A Berliner old man stands next to a warning from Berlin Wehrmacht’s Kommandantur.]

    Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Berliner Frau sits next to her suitcase in an abandoned street.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Bombed out building and debris in the Nazi-capital.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [A lost horse in the middle of Falckenstein Straße, Ecke Schlesische Straße. Sadly, it would became soon food for Berliners…]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Helsingforser StraßeTwo images of destruction: the combined action of Western Allies bombing campaign and the final Russian assault.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.]

    [German civilians -notice they are all old men and women, abandoned the defeated city as Soviet troops conquered Berlin.]

    [Photo: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 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.


    All photos: © Valery Faminsky, Arthur Bondar’s private collection. Berlin, May 1945.


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    Bombensturm! (Part IV)

    HC Bombs:

    [RAF ground crew push a 4,000-lb blast-bomb towards the bomb-bay of a Vickers Wellington of No 419 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force at RAF Mildenhall in 1941.]

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (TR 11).]

    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. A great power was necessary, 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 a high 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.]

    [Photo: Chris Goss. Heinkel He 111: The Latter Years - the Blitz and War in the East to the Fall of Germany. Pen & Sword Books Ltd. 2018.]

    [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.]

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (H 8281).]

    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 US United 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.]

    [Photo: Movie poster 1943 / Traileraddict.]

    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. 

    [An 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.]

    [Photo: © RAF Museum ID 707905.]

    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.]

    [Photo: RAF museum.]

    [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.]

    [Photo: still from film / Archive of War - Night Bombers. BBC.]

    [An Avro Lancaster Mark I, NG128SR-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.]

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CL 1404).]

    [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.]

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (C 4525).]

    [A line-up of 4000-lb HC bombs waiting to be loaded on to RAF Lancaster bombers in September 1943.]

    Photo: © IWM (CH_010937_1).

    [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.]

    [Photo: Australian War Memorial (UK1771).]

    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.]

    [Photo: © IWM CH 12591]

    [An 8,000-lb HC bomb (‘super-cookie’) is brought by a David Brown tractor to a waiting Lancaster of No 106 Squadron RAF in its dispersal at Syerston, Nottinghamshire]

    [Photo: © IWM (CH 12595).]

    Finally, the RAF employed the biggest model of this series, the 12,000-lb HC 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 RAF Bomber 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.]

    [Photo: Lake, Jon. Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing. 2002.]

    [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’. 

    [Photo: Imperial War Museums © IWM (CH 12450).]

    This table shows, by type, the number of HC-bombs dropped by RAF Bomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

    [Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.]


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    Sources and Bibliography:

    • Airminded. Airpower and British society, 1908-1941. The first Blockbuster. <https://airminded.org/2012/11/14/the-first-blockbuster/>
    • Air Ministry. (1954). RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment.
    • The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
    • Bowman. (2012). Martin W. Bomber Command Reflections of War. Volume: 2. June 1942-Summer 1943. Pen & Sword Aviation.
    • Bowman, Martin W. (2014). Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation.
    • Bowman, Martin W. (2015). Voices in Flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation.
    • Boyd, David. 4000lb High Capacity Bomb. <http://www.wwiiequipment.com>
    • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
    • Fahey, John. (2004). Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney.
    • Falconer, John. (1998). Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press.
    • Friedrich, Jörg. (2002). Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein.
    • Goss, Chris. (2018). Heinkel He 111: The Latter Years - the Blitz and War in the East to the Fall of Germany. Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
    • Hall, Sheldon (2014). Pass the ammunition: a short etymology of “Blockbuster”. In: Elliott, Andrew B.R., (ed.) The Return of the Epic Film. University Press, 147-166.
    • Johnson, George. (2014). The last British Dambuster: one man’s extraordinary life and the raids that changed history. Ebury Press.
    • Lake, Jon. (2002). Lancaster Squadrons 1944–45. Osprey Publishing.
    • Middlebrook, Martin. (1988). The Berlin raids. RAF Bomber Command Winter 1943-44. Cassell & Co.
    • 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.
    • The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939-1945 – The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit (Introduction by Sebastian Cox). Frank Cass. 1998.
    • Worral, Richard. (2019). BATTLE OF BERLIN  1943–44. Bomber Harris’ gamble to end the war. Osprey Publishing. 

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