On that night, Wednesday, RAFBomber Command launched an operation against ‘the Big City’. The mixed attacking force comprised 80 bombers - 36 Wellingtons, 24 Hampdens, 17 Whitleys and 3 of the new Short Stirling heavy bomber. This was the first raid on Berlin to feature the big four-engined british bomber.
Some sources indicates this attack was a British retaliation ordered by Churchill after the Nazis bombed and destroyed Belgrade the week before, the most devastating attack in the history of the Serbian capital. However, a British government declaration of 8 April (Boog H, Krebs G and Vogel D, 2006. p 367) had made it clear that the British were not conducting reprisal attacks and that German cities would continue to be attacked even if the Luftwaffe no longer bombed Britain. To accept the reprisal campaign would have deprived the British of the only way of hitting back Germany bombs.
Half of the bombing force reached the Nazi-capital and attacked under nearly full moon conditions before midnight. Bombing pattern was poor and flak was light. Incendiaries bombs fell on Unter den Linden and Mitte, and hit famous buildings like the State Opera (Staatsoper Berlin), Bebelplatz and the Humboldt-Universität and Staatsbibliothek. The Altes Palais’ roof, next to the Opera, was hit by 9 incendiary bombs too.
The raid lasted fifteen minutes and five aircraft failed to return.
[Crowd of Berliners at Unter den Linden during the winter of 1940, this photograph was taken from the main entrance of the Opera House, months before British bombers raided the zone hitting the theatre. At center is clearly visible the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, with the Staatsbibliothek building behind. Brandenburger Tor is barely visible in the background. The image seems to be taken during a parade or a celebration, due to the overwhelming mass of people in the streets and the absence of traffic. Notice the accumulated snow at left. Fear of air bombings is still far for Berliners…]
[Smoking columns of fire rising at Bismarckstraße during the early hours of the day after the bombing raid. The British attack hit the U-Bahn underground station next to the Staatsoper. Notice the blue U-Bahn sign post at left and a pair of trucks from the fire brigades of the Reichsluftschutzbund.]
Nazi-authorities summed up the damage in a official report shortly thereafter: 90 homes and 10 public buildings had been destroyed or severely damaged, as well as several factories railway facilities, two churches and a hospital and two barracks. 6 people died. RAF flyers were accused by Nazi-propaganda of attacking deliberately such cultural buildings of an European city.
[Fire-fighting after a bomb hit on the Opera den Linden.]
British losses included the only Short Stirling bomber that was able to reach the city, the other two aborted the mission. N6011 ‘MG-?’ of No 7 Squadron RAF was shot down by Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Scherfling flying a Bf 110 night fighter of NJG1 at 23.35 hrs and crashed near Lingen, in Lower Saxony some 300 miles short of the target Berlin. This was the first Stirling lost to enemy action.
There was only one survivor between Fl/Lt. Victor Fernley Baker Pike’s crew, Sgt Charles MacDonald (POW). The six crew members killed were initially buried at the Lingen New Cemetery and reburied after the war in the Reichswald War Cemetery in 1947.
[The image depicts one of the first Stirlings of No 7 Sqn taking off from RAF Oakington in 1941. Note large size RAF fin flash on tail. The raid was a total disaster for the squadron, with one returned early due to a propeller fault (N6009) an other (N6005) being damaged by a night fighter and bombed Emden, plus the one shot down by Scherfling.]
[Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Scherfling, from Nachtjagdgeschwader 1, the German pilot who shot down the Stirling bomber that night. It was his second air victory of a total of 33 during the war. He would be shot down and killed in a Bf 110 G-4 by a British Mosquito night fighter on 20/21 July 1944.]
[Two views of the chopped fin of T2739, an 99 Sqn Wellington bomber that returned from Berlin in this state after a run in with a night fighter during this sortie. Her squadron mates, Wellingtons R3199 and R1440, were not so lucky, being shot down on that night by German defences.]
[Hauptmann Egon Agtha, from Sprengkommando im Luftgau III Berlin, posing for the camera with an unexploded British bomb at Emilienstraße/Ecke Beyrodtstraße in Marienfelde district the following day, April 10th. 20 people were evacuated.]
On the very next day after the RAF attack, British Empire newspapers reported the raid all around the world from London to Sydney, with great emphasis in the destruction of the Staatsoper at Unter den Linden. ”(…) Firemen reported that the State Opera House is a complete loss.” The raid lasted 15 minutes over the capital, and damage was less than severe but international press correspondents reported great destruction and large fires without regards that non military targets had been hit: “(…) High explosives and incendiaries were dropped on residential areas, and public buildings and two hospitals were hit”. This is highly remarkable, because until mid-1942 British War Cabinet didn’t shifted it’s policy to the moral bombing, but hit back hard to revenge London’s Blitz was a priority for British people in the Darkest Hour.
[On 12 April this report of the raid appeared in The Argus newspaper at Melbourne, Australia.]
[This original film-footage filmed on 10 April 1941 recorded the consequences of the previous night raid by British RAF bombers over Berlin Mitte. We can see the destroyed roof of the Haus der Schweiz at Friedrichstraße, and the Feuerwehr extinguishing the last fires from the enemy’s bombs at the Opernhaus as well as columns of smoke in adjacent streets.]
[Video credit: Worldfilmheritage.]
After the attack, an infuriated Hitler confronts Göring, chief of Luftwaffe, about lack of defenses against RAF bombing campaign, so in revenge for the destruction of the Staatsoper Göring ordered two huge raids against London to demonstrate the Führer his air force could indeed flatten the capital. On April 16th, 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked with 681 bombers (886 tonnes of bombs) with the west of London suffered the most in this bombing, Chelsea and West End, and even St. Paul’s cathedral was hit. This raid was so heavy that it became known to Londoners as ‘The Wednesday’.
Three nights later the Germans back with 712 aircraft (1,026 tonnes), the largest raid of the 1941 Blitz campaign and nearly the end of this first phase. Some sources indicates total casualties are roughly 2,300 killed and 3,000 seriously wounded between the two attacks. London firefighters lost 13 men, the most so far during the war.
[Londoners walking single file across rubble with water pails after a German air raid. April 1941.]
If there was a building at Berlin favourite for the Führer that was the Opera…
Its importance and history, its location in Berlin Mitte in the middle of Unter den Linden Avenue, and its musicians, made it a symbol of the city. A symbol raised to the altars by the Nazi regime, encouraging the radical enhancement of Wagner’s work along with the Aryan ideals.
Its long history from its construction would live extensions, a fire and reconstruction, four wars and an almost total annihilation by air bombings, as well as its use as political and cultural weapon with the arrival of the Iron Curtain and the new Communist regime.
[A pre-war view of the Staastsoper at Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Platz (today Bebelplatz), this picture was taken in 1938.]
The Staatsoper was built in 1741-43 as the Hofoper (‘Court Opera’) commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia with design by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. In 1843 the building lives its first reconstruction after suffering a serious fire, supervised by architect Carl Ferdinand Langhans. A year later it was renamed Königliches Opernhaus (Royal Opera House) and took an extension of the theatre and the stage.
After the collapse of the German Empire in 1918, the Opera was renamed Staatsoper Unter den Linden, highlighting a major renovation in the twenties to adapt to the standards of the time, and with the arrival of the Third Reich lived a time full of lights and shadows: on the one hand, the glorification of the operatic work and its authors, on the other, the condemnation and expulsion of many of the best directors and musicians of the moment, for being Jewish.
[The Staatsoper Berlin during the celebration of the Heldengedenktag (‘Heroes Memorial Day’) in February 1934. In the front row among others Adolf Hitler and the former President Paul von Hindenburg.]
During the 1930’s, subordinated to the Preußisches Staatstheater, concerts there became major party events, due to the Nazi regime fanfare for Imperial traditions. The Führer had an almost fanatical devotion to the work of Richard Wagner, which to Hitler represented everything that was good about culture in Nazi Germany. The new regime forced that music had to conform to the Aryan ideal. Hence some composers were tolerated and even elevated to a status of pure Nazism, while other composers, frequently Jewish, were shunned and censored. During the Third Reich, Robert Heger, Herbert von Karajan and Johannes Schüler were Staats Kapellmeister (the conductor of the orchestra) at some time.
[Herbert von Karajan at a concert in the Berlin State Opera in 1941].
The outbreak of World War Two would cause the almost total destruction of the Opera, being one of the key-point buildings of the aerial bombing campaign suffered by Berlin, appearing in every writing of every press correspondent hosted in the city as well as in the official parts after each enemy’s raid. Destruction falling from above was a real threat since the start of the war, evidence of this is the warning text that appeared on every program (“Bei Fliegeralarm ist den Anordnungen der Logenschließer unbedingt Folge zu leisten” - In the event of an air-raid alarm, the instructions of the ushers must be followed) to alert the audience before the performance from 1940.
But the origin of the destruction of the Berlin’s Opera would be thousands of kilometers east of the Reichshauptstadt, exactly in Yugoslavia…
BRANDDERSTAATSOPER - 10 APRIL 1941
The night before RAF Bomber Command raided the city dropping several sticks of bombs at Unter den Linden and Mitte. The attack was made by 80 medium bombers (nearly half of them reached the city) and the attacking force bombed Berlin illuminated by moonlight conditions. The British lost 5 aircraft and minor damage was made to the capital.
Some sources indicates this attack was ordered by Britain’s War Cabinet in retaliation for the bombing of Belgrade by the Luftwaffe on 6 April [‘Operation Retribution’ (Unternehmen Strafgericht)]. That day, 160 medium bombers dropped 215–360 tons of bombs and incendiaries in four air strikes on the Yugoslav capital. Hitler had given orders for the city to be annihilated but the order was changed in the last minute by the Air Staff into an order to attack military objectives within the city area. Prime Minister Churchill said that Germans killed twelve thousand souls in his statement for BBC London on the very next day.
[6 April 1941. Luftwaffe bombs devastated Belgrade. German estimates of the Yugoslav casualties were between 1,500 and 1,700. The precise figure of victims was never discovered.]
[Brand der Staatsoper. 10 April 1941. Feuerschutzpolizei Berlin tries to extinguish the fire, with the roof engulfed in flames, after several British incendiary bombs targeted the building the night before. In the background can be seen the St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale with her big dome.]
[10 April 1941. Several trucks from Feuerschutzpolizei Berlin in front of the main entrance of the Staatsoper den Linden during the fire-extinguish works. This time the picture is taken looking west, notice St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale at left.]
The worst part of the raid damage goes to the Staatsoper theatre. The roof construction was partially plunged into the auditorium, the head building in front of the massive stage house actually ripe for the demolition. The correspondent from US news agency United Press reported to New York: “Berlin’s large opera house at Unter den Linden, in which Adolf Hitler often heard Wagner, his favorite music, today lies in smoldering ruins.”
According to the city’s municipal report, “she was hit by a large number of incendiary bombs. Burned out theatre building, stage house badly affected. Heavy property damage.” Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, was there and took a series of dramatic photographies of the Opera engulfed in flames after the attack.
[10 April 1941. Columns of smoke and fire rises from the theatre hit by bombs as seen from the equestrian statue of Frederick the Greatat Unter den Linden.]
After the raid, Nazi leadership took advantage of the apparent non-military targets of this air attack. ‘Angriff auf das Berliner Kulturviertel’ was the name given to this propaganda campaign led by Propaganda Minister and Gauleiter of Berlin Joseph Goebbels. Official German agencies exaggerated the destruction and spread Goebbels’ speach throughout the world.
He noted in his diary about the destruction of the Opera: “A serious loss. Apparently he actually felt struck: “I look at the damage in the Staatsoper. She is lost. The whole interior completely burned out. There is hardly anything to save… How many happy hours have I already experienced in this house. And now this ruin.”
[Here we can see the Nazi-leader visiting the damage of the city after a British night bombing, the so called ‘Terror-attack’ , in October 1940].
Here we can see the destroyed roof of the“Haus der Schweiz” and adjacent building at Unter den Linden 22/23 Ecke Friedrichstraße 155 on these two images taken from a video film. This original film-footage filmed on 10 April 1941 recorded the damage taken from the previous night raid by British RAF bombers over Berlin-Mitte, the one which destroyed the Opera building and several others too at Unter den Linden.
The Swiss House or ‘Schweizerhaus’ would be partly destroyed in 1945 the final Soviet assault to capture the city. Postwar, the DDR government reconstructed the building from 1950 but did not want to mess with Swiss banks. Nevertheless, they used the house for their own purposes.
[Still from film taken from a Russian newsreel following the end of the battle, May 1945. Soviet troops and vehicles (notice the American Jeep) at the ruined Friedrichstraße near Unter den Linden, the Haus der Schweiz can be seen at right.]
The junction of these two main streets was heavily rebuilt during the post-war years as we can see in this picture taken in September 1959. The Café Viktoria was demolished and the space left empty during many many years as was the case in several other locations in East Berlin. Note Bhf-Friedrichtraße’sbridge in the background.
The world as we know, as historian Eric Hosbawms says, started that day. No other city was in the middle of the Twentieth century than Berlin. The Kaiser has abdicated, the Weimar Republic
started, the Spartacus Revolution triumphed… and Hitler and Hess waited for their time…
On 11 November 1918, Marshal Foch, as Supreme Commander, signed the armistice with Germany in the then-called “Wagon of Compiègne”. This agreement ended fighting in the First World War.
22 years later, in May 1940, Hitler forced the defeated France, the real enemy, to sign her surrender in that same car at the exact spot where it happened, Compiegne. Adolf’s revenge for the shame of 1918 was complete.
Then he took the saloon car to Berlin, exposing it as a trophy at Lustgarten in front of the Dom, so that all Berliners could admire it as we seen in these photos during the Wehrmacht Day´s celebration on 23 March 1941. Notice in the second image at right the Löwenkämpfer statue (´The Lion fighter`) besides main entrance of the Altes Museum.
The IL-2 was a ground-attack plane from 1941, designed by Sergei Ilyushin, it was very feared by German troops on the ground, who dubbed her“Der Schwarze Tod”(The black death).
It was an outstanding design thanks to its endurance, fire-power and heavy armor. With 36,183 units produced during the war, it was the single most produced military aircraft design in aviation history.
During the final Battle of Berlin in April 1945, Shturmoviks bombed and strafed the city and their defenders to aid the Soviet troops to conquer the Reich’s capital.
[Several Soviet Shturmoviks parked on the grass between Luftwaffe aircraft wreckage at Tempelhof Flughafen Berlin in May 1945. This airport was captured by the Russians on 26 April 1945.]
In the last years Berlin city has undergone a radical transformation, with an influx of money from public institutions and private companies, far away from the cold days of the German reunification in 1990. This has benefited in the architectural modernization and services improvement for its inhabitants but in contrast led to the loss of its unique condition among other European capital cities: historical buildings, bridges, roads and streets, survivors of the 1939-1945 war years and its battle fires are all being refurbished to clean and nearly new condition (the Reinhardtstraße bridge of the Stadtbahn is one of the last examples of this).
Berlin is now losing its value as a “time capsule” from the past.
This battle-scarred building is located at Am Kupfergraben Ecke Dorotheenstraße nr 1 in Berlin-Mitte district, today home of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin School of Business and Economics.
With its walls full of signs of war, smoke and fire from Luftangriffe by British RAF and American air-raids, and shrapnel from howitzers and splinters due to street-fighting with the Soviets during the final Battle of Berlin in May 1945, it is an evident survivor of the destruction experienced by the city.
[Two pictures of this building before the restoration work, as viewed in 2008.]
The heavily damaged building was restored and cleaned a few years ago, helping in preserve it but in the process erasing forever its original state, much more blackened and holed, a true-live survivor of the aerial bombings and battles suffered by the city during the Second World War which now has lost its past.
[This aerial view taken a few days after the war’s end in Berlin, clearly shows the devastation suffered by Mitte district. Museumsinsel with Altes Museum is in the foreground, Unter den Linden crossing from top to bottom, and other main sites like the Zeughaus, Staatsoper, Humboldt Universität, and the green Tiergarten park far behind. Our “time-capsule” building is seen at extreme right, marked with a red arrow.]
It has survived in those conditions due to its location in Berlin Mitte, near the Museumsinsel. During the postwar years, located at the Soviet Occupation sector, it was repaired by a number of securing provisions of concrete and brickwork, a patchwork which made extend its life until the end of the Cold War in 1990.
[Different views of today’s condition of the Humboldt building.]
This building was built in 1879-83 with a four-storey sandstone facade in Italian Renaissance forms mixed with simple Prussian functional design.
It was renovated in 2002 to be the Faculty of Economic Sciences and from 2009 started the restoration of the roof and facade in cooperation with the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (the State Office for preservation of historic monuments), with emphasis in that the signs of war remain legible on its 1.200 m2 facade.
The work was made by Ellwart Steinrestaurieung, an experienced company focused on monument and ancient buildings restoration, in close cooperation with the architecture office Martin Focks. In their study they asked themselves before the restoration began: “…Can a façade repair appropriate to the monument be realized without neglecting the age value of the building and without distorting or even eliminating the historical traces of war damage?”
Massive work was made to exchange the facade stones as well as a removal of post-war provisories, but not the projectile impacts. The final result is a mixture of two periods, with a facade full of holes in a secured and cleaned building.
It costs approx. €2.5 million and ended in the Autumn of 2013.
[Close view of one of the several graffities which ‘adorn’ the building before the 2009-restoration project.]
[And compare it with a 2013-year view…Notice at upper right that the missing stone cornice of the facade seen in previous image has been retrofitted during the restoration project, and the overall condition is more clean.]
In this image taken in 1947 by photographer Harry Croner can be seen the surviving building at Berlin Am Kupfergraben after the war’s fire and destruction with Pergamonmuseumand its entrance at left. Notice the ruined dome of the Stadtschloss in the background.
This week we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the start of the “Berlin Luftbrücke”. When the Soviets blockade Berlin on the night of 24 June 1948, the only way to supply the city from West Germany was by plane.
US President Truman and the National Security Council (NSC) formally stated America’s determination to remain in Berlin. They named it “Operation Vittles”, and began on 26 June with the landing of a Douglas C-47 Skytrain in Tempelhof.
American and British airmen made a risky non-stop work flying across Soviet East Germany in unarmed airplanes, and there was also a large supply of ex-Luftwaffe airplane mechanics available right in Berlin. Pilots from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa also joined the ranks.
The Allies used hundreds of transport and cargo airplanes from RAFTransport Command and the USMilitary Air Transport Service, and even private operators aid on the effort with their aircraft and cargo trucks. They included civilians as well as military personnel. Some facilities and airfields were improved to accomplish the operation, the old Berlin Tempelhof too, with the construction of a new runway and landing strip to the south of the airfield. A long distance radar was installed on the main building of the airport to guide the aircrews to West Berlin. Even a new air base was built, airport Tegel, with the French authorities ordering the construction of a 2428 m (7,966 ft) long runway, as Tempelhof was not big enough to accommodate all relief aircraft.
[Berlin’s Neukölln children watching from a pile of rubble an American transport Douglas C-54 in her final approach to landing at Flughafen Tempelhof.]
Why is the Berlin Airlift related to the bombing of the city during the war? The same young men that 3 years before flew through Flak and enemy fighters every day and night to bomb the Third Reich’s capital now make the same trip but to carry milk, coal and food to the blocked city. Many former US bomber pilots volunteered for duty in the Air transport command in the new born-USAF. This is how former enemies became friends in the Cold War.
[Here, three US airmen check the cargo load inside a C-47 Skytrain during the Berlin Airlift. Notice they even wear their WW2-era flying jackets, the patch on the shoulder on the men at extreme right identifies him as a China-Burma-India veteran.]
[Old foes become friends: the Handley Page Halifax, one of Bomber Command’s heavy bombers that raided and attacked Berlin during 1943-1944, joined in the combined effort to save the blocked city. This is G-ALEF ‘Red Eagle’ an ex-military plane now in civilian hands from the Eagle Aviation Company at Wunstorf, West Germany during the Berlin Airlift, 1948].
[An American Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, a massive-size cargo airplane, moments before landing at Flughafen Tempelhof. The Globemaster II entered service with the USAF in 1950, designed with the lessons learned from the Berlin blockade and airlift, so this pic was taken a few years later of the Berlin Luftbrücke operation. Notice that the last meters of the landing pattern were overflying several cemeteries at Leinestraße in Neukölln.]
[A group of curious Berliner kids and a woman with her little child are looking on as the cargo load is being lowered from a big US Air Force Douglas C-74 cargo plane, the only one used on the #berlinluftbrücke, as it was on trials. This photo was taken at Gatow airfield, on 19 August 1948. Note that some of the kids are barefoot, a post-war common sight in the defeated Germany.]
At the end, with almost 278,000 flights, more than 2.3 million tons of freight was transported, feeding 2 million people by air with 1500 flights landed in Berlin every day with enough cargo to supply the city indefinitely.
31 US airmen and 40 British lost their lives during the Berlin airlift, and on 20 July 1949 the US Congress awarded the Medal for Humane Action to members of the US Army, Air Force, and Navy who served in support for at least 120 days during the period 26 June 1949 through 30 September 1949. Lest we forget.
[The breaking of the blockade of Berlin by the Allied airlift of 1948-1949. Produced by British Movietone News, GB, 1949.]
Harrington, D. Pioniere der Luftbrücke. Nishen Kommunikation, Berlin 1998.
[Armourers from No 97 Squadron preparing MC-bombs on their trolleys to be loaded onto a Lancaster bomber on July 1943 at RAF Waddington.]
The limited and inadequate arsenal of bombs composed of the high explosive GP (general purpose) bombs (10-15% detonation failure rate) made British Bomber Command to develop a new range of explosives: these weapons were the Medium Capacity (MC) Bombs, which had improved metal to explosive ratios and also proved more reliability and generally exploded on impact, unless fitted with delayed action fuses. Basically, higher explosive into lighter cases to obtain a greater blast.
The analysis of the destruction inflicted by Luftwaffe’s bombers over Britain, particularly by the Germans’ SC (Spreng Cylindrische) series of bombs (usually filled with a mixture of 40% amatol and 60% TNT), with their higher charge to weight ratios and destructive power, marked the new requirement.
[This is a German SC 2500 ‘Max’ bomb (5,000-lb/2,300 kg), the biggest one of this series, ready to be loaded in a Heinkel He 111H-5 medium bomber at a Luftwaffe airfield during the final phase of the Battle of Britain in 1940. Due to its massive size, this weapon had to be carried externally attached to a reinforced ETC2000 bomb rack.]
The first bombs dropped on an air raid were high explosive bombs, to shook the people and lead the way to the incendiaries, the actual fuse of the destruction into the streets. Vast swaths of fire engulfed the town, and then the RAF attacked again with their MC-bombs, a last punch of destruction to spread fire and keep firefighters away and to avoid wardens and police officers to drawn out and assist the city and their people. The roads and streets, and water pumps were destroyed and harassed by craters and blows, incapacitating the workforce.
[This crater was made by an explosive bomb dropped by Bomber Command into downtown Berlin in October 1940.]
The 500-lbs MC (227 kg) bomb was first introduced in to the Command’s inventory at the end of 1941, the bomb contained twice as much explosive of Amatol than its GP equivalent and became a mainstay for bombing operations due to its much greater blast effect. As the war progressed, the Air Ministry scientific advisors and experiments made by Solly Zuckerman (a scientific advisor to the Allies on bombing strategy) found that blast effect rather than penetrative power was more important in destroying buildings.
[Men from No 77 Squadron, based at RAF Elvington look on as the message ‘we hope this hurts’ is chalked onto a 500-lb MC bomb prior to their fourth attack, on Berlin on 30 January 1944.]
However, they still lacked aluminized explosive like German bombs, which would have rise the effect more than three times. By March 1943, 19 firms were producing bomb bodies nearly at 18,000 a month and the MC bombs formed the main bulk of destruction tonnage dropped by Bomber Command on Germany, with the heavy 1,000-lb version being introduced in the spring of 1943 as a very effective weapon and about a quarter of a million were produced by the end of the war. It became the standard British bomb.
[Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito B IV, DZ483 ‘GB-R’, of No 105 Squadron RAF at Marham, Norfolk, in preparation for a night raid on Berlin by aircraft of No 2 Group in 1942-43. At this time, Mosquitoes, flying alone in the dark, usually carried a bomb load consisted of four 500 MC, an explosive ‘present’ sent just to disrupt and keep the head of the enemy down.]
[British ‘1000-pounders’, MC bombs, await in their trolleys to be loaded into this No 76 Squadron Rolls Royce Merlin-engined Halifax heavy bomber, W7805/’MP-M’, being bombed-up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire on 3 April 1943. This bomber failed to return to England that night, during the bombing of Essen, one of the 24 aircraft lost. W7805 was probably hit by Flak, four men of her crew perished on the crash.]
[..and the sight after being loaded in the bomb-bay. Here, we can see the usual load for industrial demolition, factories, railyards, dockyards (know as ‘Abnormal’), loaded in the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster of No 9 Squadron RAF at Bardney, Lincolnshire, before a night raid on Stettin. ‘Abnormal’ consisted of 14 x 1,000-lb MC high-explosive bombs. When RAFBomber Command bombed Berlin the target wasn’t her factories, the aim was to destroy the city and the people’s morale, so only a few part of the attacking force carried this type of load during those raids, mainly some of the Pathfinders and the last squadrons to be scheduled over the target, with a mix of instantaneous (nose-armed) and long-delay (tail-armed) fusing-bombs.]
The explosive bombs shook everything around and fill the target with destruction, noise and dust into the streets. It is estimated that during the attacks on the Hauptstadt during the Winter 1943-44 by British Bomber Command, 9,390 Berliners civilians were killed. The city resisted and their defences inflicted a severe blow to the enemy campaign, but moral fell to a minimum.
[A shocked but alive family is helped by a young member of the Luftwaffe through the rubble on a street in Berlin from a demolished building, following Allied air raids during 1944.]
During the war 758,408 tons of high explosive were despatched on Bomber Command aircraft, and would drop some 253,800 1,000-lb MC bombs along with 403,000 500-pounders.
The research done by the USSBS (The United States Strategic Bombing Survey) and John Fahey’s paper indicate that on average, it cost the British Government £1.00 per 23.4-lb of HE bomb weight purchased. At this price, the total value of high explosive bombs despatched to targets by Bomber Command during the strategic air offensive was £72,599,749, but it is important to indicate that these figures were just the guesses of economic experts, due to the impossibility of getting reliable information.
This table shows, by type, the number of MC bombs dropped by RAFBomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYALAIRFORCEHISTORICALSOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
This is a British 1000-pounder (500 kg) MC bomb from 1944 today at Berlin Mitte. Thousands of people around Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (the main railway station in the city) were evacuated last week to allow disposal experts to defuse an unexploded World War II explosive dropped by Bomber Command and unearthed on a building site. It is one of the 253,800 bombs of this type dropped by RAF bombers during 1939-45 in all war fronts.
[Haus Vaterland (“Fatherland House”) burns following a night raid on 22/23 November 1943 by British RAF bombers.The building was a pleasure palace on the southwest side of Potsdamer Platz. At left, a S-Bahn signal post.]
Incendiaries (IB), usually small-sized weapons, were carried in an aircraft bomb-bay using Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) and were packed into clusters. The device was not aim able and once dropped often became effected by cross winds. This resulted in incendiary attacks become wide spread downwind of the target and also lead to other bombers being struck by falling bombs. Incendiary bombs function on impact. The heavy reliance of Bomber Command on highly inaccurate incendiaries shows that fire-raising was a major weapon in the strategic air offensive.
[British armourers preparing fire-bombs (of 4-lb incendiaries Magnesium) into Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) at RAF Marham, Norfolk, air base.]
[Vickers Wellington B Mark IC (W5690, GR-W) of No 301 Polish Bomber Squadron awaits a mixed load of incendiaries and 500 pounds-GP bombs on trolleys at RAF Hemswell before a night sortie over Germany, July 1941.]
The mainstay of the Command’s incendiary devices was the 4-lb Magnesium (IB) bomb. RAFBomber Command dropped 80 million of these small incendiary bombs during World War II. In May 1943 efforts were made to developed a delivery device for the ‘four pounder’IB which would allow for them to be aimed and therefore more accurate during the raids.
[A member of the Luftschutz, Reich Office for Air Protection holds a stick-type incendiary bomb dropped by British bombers during a night raid in Berlin, March 1941. It seems to be a red nose colored 4-lb (1.8 kg) incendiary bomb made from magnesium and thermite.]
[A British 4-lb. Mk IV type incendiary bomb (“Brandbombe”). Top: complete device, nose is red colored. Middle: dud found without the tin plate tail, Bottom: the remains after burning. This bomb was made from magnesium in a hollow body made from aluminium with a cast iron/steel nose, and filled with thermite incendiary pellets. It was capable of burning for up to ten minutes. Its size was 54.35 cm long. This one was dropped over Würzburg in 1945.]
In April 1941, 12 millions incendiaries were ordered for the rest of the year and 36 millions for 1942, but because of magnesium shortages, production just reached ‘only’ 2.2 million in the ninth months of 1941, and 11.8 million in 1942, but these figures were more than enough for a force not yet converted fully to mass incendiary bombing. This very large numbers of production had enormous requirements on the Britain’s war effort.
[The bomb load most commonly used for ‘area’ bombing raids in the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster of No 57 Squadron RAF at Scampton, Lincolnshire. Her deadly cargo consisted of 12 SBCs each loaded with incendiaries, in this case, 236 x 4-lb incendiary sticks. In the centre can be seen a 4,000 impact-fused HC bomb (‘Cookie’).]
[As war progressed, RAFBomber Command used several types of containers to drop Incendiary bombs. These are Cluster Projectile 500-lb No.14 Mk I falling on Germany. Two 500-lb incendiary
clusters plunge toward their target over Kiel. At left, one of the containers has broke and scattered the incendiaries like match sticks. The other big bomb has not yet broken but will do so momentarily. They were Dull red overall, one of the tensioning straps painted bright red and each one contained two fagots of 53 bombs each, a total of one hundred and six 4-lb incendiary bombs. Later, Cluster Projectile 500-lb No.17 Mk II tailed bombs and US-made cluster containers were used too.]
The other main type of incendiary-bomb dropped by Bomber Command was the 30-lb J-Type IB phosphorous. The Germans considered this a ‘morale weapon’ because it was impossible to extinguish with water due to its benzon-gel and was more stronger than 4-lb IB. Regardless of its short life span of this type of bomb on the war over 400,000 were dropped.
[The other British main fire-weapon: the 30-lbs. J-Type IB phosphorous.]
[This still from a film shows a 30-lb incendiary bomb exploding over the centre of a factory taken from Avro Lancaster, DV380AJ-N, of No 617 Squadron RAF, flown by the Squadron commander, Wing Commander G L Cheshire, during the low-level marking of the Gnome-Rhone aero-engine factory at Limoges, France, on the night of 8/9 February 1944. On this occasion, the incendiary bomb was used however as a precision target marker at night for the incoming main bomber force but shows to good effect how an IB explodes, Cheshire tried his low-level marking techniques on this raid, leading 12 Lancasters of the Squadron to the target.]
Handley Page Halifaxes usually carried the main bulk of incendiary bomb load on Bomber Command missions, so when they’re hold on reserve after high losses over Berlin in Fall 1943 the British offensive lost a high percent of fire destruction.
By 1944, the percent of total incendiary bomb load in a city attack by BC was around 70 percent and this support the claims made by Arthur Harris that the incendiary bomb was the most significant type of munition deployed by Bomber Command.
Of the total percent of bombs despatched by Bomber Command during the war 20.5 % (196,256 tons) were incendiary bombs. The economic cost to Britain of manufacturing incendiary bombs for BC was approximately £73 million, which means that those weapons cost slightly more than 50 percent of the total cost spent on bombs during the entire period of the campaign.
Air ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities, USSBS.
Bolan, G T. The development of British incendiary bombs during the period of the 1939-45 World War. Armaments Design Establishment Technical Report. Ministry of Supply. December 1946. <http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/Development%20of%20British%20Incendiary%20Bombs.pdf>
Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
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.