The Fifth Raid: 3/4 September

BERLIN BOMBED AGAIN Power stations and armament works attacked

– The Times, September 5, 1940 –

Photo: © IWM (CH 15644)

With the arrival of the new month of September a new phase in the air war was about to begin between Berlin and London. The invasion menace across the Channel forced Churchill and the War Cabinet to maintain the pressure over the enemy, with a vast list of territories and targets to be attacked by the RAF.

After a brief pause of two nights without being on the target lists (you can read more about the previous raid here), RAF’s Bomber Command effort included the ‘Big City’ again on the night of September 3/4, 1940, in what would be the British fifth raid on the German capital. On the first anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war, a mixed force of light and medium bombers from all Groups were sent to “Berlin, Magdeburg, the Ruhr and the German forests, and to airfields in France.”[1] As on previous nights, the bombing effort was hampered by clouds and haze.

Again, the bombing force was sent to destroy “industrial and military targets” located in and around Berlin. Main effort was focused on the western part of the city with the Hampden squadrons (No. 5 Group) being dispatched to bomb the West power station in Berlin-Spandau and the Rheinmetall Borsig factory, meanwhile No. 4 Group’s mission was directed against a transformer station and gasworks in the Tegel area too.[2] The Wellington group for its part was assigned a special task on this night: to raise fires on Grunewald, the largest wooded area in Berlin (For further info see Razzles - Firing the Grunewald Forest) dropping incendiary bombs “where, among other things, it was thought that the Germans had established enormous military storage facilities”.[3][4] Similar raids were made on previous nights (to the Black Forest or to Falkensee near Berlin), but this was the first one of this type on the capital.[5]

[Wellington crews being interrogated by an RAF intelligence officer after returning from a raid, 2 September 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (HU 104660)

Exact figures about how many bombers attacked Berlin on that night are impossible to come by, because known documents (mainly each squadron’s ORB — operations record books) are not so precise as in late war years, but an estimate is between 17-21 aircraft dispatched until more detailed data surfaces.

As with the rest of early raids on Berlin, this one was mostly obliterated by aviation historians and authors. Even the most recent Martin Bowman’s work, a specialized book narrating the RAF’s early years bombing campaign against Berlin published last year, doesn’t mention it.[6] Just brief descriptions can be found in the available literature, for example Bomber Command’s reference book (Middlebrook, 1985) “90 Blenheims, Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys to Berlin…” or in 4 Group’s chronicle by Chris Ward. Former 10 Squadron air-gunner Larry Donnelly writes in his book a more detailed breakdown of the operation, meanwhile author Paul Tweddle gives us a deeper narration of the raid.[7] On the German side, Prof. Demps in his research of the air bombardments on the city lists this raid as been made by just eleven British aircraft.[8]

‘Bombs on Woods’
Bomber Command’s 3 Group assigned the mission to two of its units, both equipped with Wellington medium bombers. Order Form B.259 was received at RAF Marham, Norfolk, earlier that day where Nos 38 and 115 Squadrons were based at the time. Six bombers were prepared to attack the Grunewald woods, with twelve more intended to bomb the Schwarzwald (Black Forest in Southwest Germany). Another four crews would target marshalling yards at Hamm and Schwerte with the north and western forests areas of Berlin as alternative targets.[9]

The bombers attacking the forests would be loaded with six containers of 25 lb parachute incendiary bombs each and several 250 lb light case incendiaries.[10]

Photo: TNA AIR 27/894 © Crown Copyright

At Marham, 115 Squadron put up four bombers from 20.41 hrs intended for Grunewald. Crews reported that many explosions were caused and fires started at the target area.[11] However according to author Steve Smith just two a/c from this squadron were assigned Berlin’s forests on this night.[12] Shortly thereafter No. 38 Squadron’s two bombers took off for their targets (off eleven attacking Germany) to fire Grunewald’s woods too, arriving over target area at 00:34 hrs. The squadron’s combat log recorded that “many fires were started and many white and red explosions were seen, and much damage is believed to have been done.” By 04.43 hrs all aircraft had returned safely.[13]

[A fine study of Wellington bomber X3662 KO-P assigned to No. 115 Squadron RAF seen at Marham, Norfolk, in 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (CH 16994)

For their part, No. 5 Group — then under Air Vice Marshal Harris’ command — sent Order Form B.212 to Scampton and Waddington stations. Attacking orders planned “To destroy power station at X Target B.56.” (the West power station located at Spandau/Siemensstadt) with eight aircraft from Nos 44 and 83 Squadrons, both equipped with Hampden bombers. Loaded with 250- and 500 lb GP bombs, in the case crews didn’t find it they would proceed to target G.69 (the Deutsche Industriewerke AG) and the Rheinmetall Borsig AG factory (coded E.15) at Berlin-Tegel where the company built guns and ammunition among other many things substantial for the German war effort. Another four Hampdens were to attack an oil refinery in Magbeburg with one Berlin target as the secondary (an oil storage coded A.160).[14]

Operating from RAF Feltwell as advance airstrip the Scampton crews (No 83 Sqn) are to lead the attack with five bombers, however results were poor: two of the bombers returned to base early due to engine trouble and the remaining three reached the German capital but just one reported to have identified and attacked the target, with other claiming to drop bombs over a “large factory west of Spandau”, none of them seen their effects.[15] The three 44 Squadron bombers arrived at the target area between 23.45 and 00.40 hrs and dropped their bombs in a swallow dive but results were not seen owing to intense searchlights and A.A. fire. By 04.45 all the aircraft were back at their bases in England safely.[16]

Photo: TNA AIR 27/453 ©Crown Copyright

Finally, No 4 Group’s contribution to that night included just one of its units, in this case No 10 Squadron based at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire. The night before the squadron had been sent to attack a power station in Genoa, Italy, a very long trip at the limit of the Whitley’s endurance losing two crews. (see Richard Worrall, The Italian Blitz 1940–43: Bomber Command’s war against Mussolini’s cities, docks and factories. Osprey, 2020, for further information)[17]

Earlier that day the crews had been briefed to raid targets in Italy again, but at mid-morning new orders reassigned the Group to Berlin. The seven bombers detailed were to attack targets in west Berlin area, with the power plant as primary target and the coal gasworks in Berlin-Tegel as secondary objective. Their Whitley bombers would be loaded with 2x500 lb plus 6x250 lb high explosive bombs.

Leaving RAF Leeming from 20.30 hours, the seven bombers dispatched by the squadron reached the Reich’s capital, but only one claimed to have bombed the primary target (“one large fire was started”) and another the secondary, rest of the crews attacked targets of opportunity due to total darkness: a marshalling yard, a factory near Stendal, and an aerodrome south of the capital, with the last one dropping bombs over an aerodrome at Magdeburg. Returning crews reported ten-tenth clouds and intense Flak over the target. At 06.20 the last aircraft landed after completing operations.[18] 

[A Whitley bomber from No. 102 Squadron RAF moments before departing to a night sortie over the Third Reich, 1940.]

Photo: © IWM (C 835)

‘crashed against a tree’
RAF intruders suffered no losses over Germany on that night but one bomber crash-landed on the return journey due to fuel exhaustion. This aircraft, bomber Whitley P4967 ZA-J J for Johnny’ of No 10 Sqn, made two attacks on a marshalling yard two miles from the primary target and returned to Yorkshire but ran low on fuel, the pilot (Flight Lt D.G. Tomlinson) was forced to make a ‘wheels-up’ landing at 06.45 hrs five miles of Northallerton in North Yorkshire. All crewmembers escaped unhurt.[19] Another Whitley (serial P4994) from the same unit suffered Flak damage over the target when a piece of shrapnel damaged the bomber’s windscreen but returned without problem to England.[20]

[Whitley P4967 ran out of fuel and crashed in a small field at Hall Farm, 5 miles of Northallerton. The bomber, piloted by Flight Lt D.G. Tomlinson, was a total wreck.]

Photos: © Brian Rapier/

Mass Bombing of Secret Targets
On the next day, press reports and the official Air Ministry communique resumed the operation with high claims: “British planes last night bombed electric power stations, lighting installations and an armament factory. Other planes attacked military objectives in the Harz Mountains and in the Grunewald Forest north of Berlin, starting fires and causing explosions.”[21] Pilots returning reported fierce blazes “seen from 100 miles on their homeward flight” with squadron’s log records narrating explosions and large fires seen too. British and American press highlighted even more the bombing effects on Berlin that night: “a devastating attack with incendiary bombs” wrote for example The New York Times two days after the raid.[22]

Reality was far from that and results were poor. Just nine crews (of 19 that probably reached the Great Berlin area) returned claims of have bombed their primary target, with two others attacking the secondary. Heavy clouds and ground haze over the targets were encountered, which made it difficult to locate them and to observe the immediate effects of the swallow attacks.[23] Almost all returning crews reported intense German Flak and accurate fire, with a high number of searchlights over the target area; one crewmember remembered that “searchlights were very active… two of these were red, but changed to yellow” meanwhile another one stated that “the Black-out in Berlin was very poor.”[24]

On the other hand, the Luftwaffe continued its aerial campaign against the Thames estuary, resulting in heavy air combats over Kent and Essex during the day. On the evening, small German bombing formations attacked the Midlands, the Wash area and Merseyside, offensive described as “widespread over many parts of this country, but reports indicate that the general damage was slight”, losing two to RAF night fighters.[25]

[Bombing news headlines at The Times, Thursday, 5 September 1940, page 4]

Photo: airminded.

As seen before, with the arrival of the new month the air bombing campaign continued, although with less intensity, the Reich’s capital being targeted regularly through the autumn and winter of 1940. This new attack by RAF raiders, overclaimed by the British, left a small tonnage of bombs dropped and minimal damage on the city but achieved its main purpose of keeping the pressure over the Nazi authorities and reminded the German people that they were at war also. 

On the next post we will explore the effects of this bombardment on the city, its people and its terrible consequences… London would soon suffer the power of the German air fleet.



[1] MIDDLEBROOK, Martin. The Berlin Raids. R.A.F. Bomber Command Winter 1943/44. Cassell & Co, 1988, p 79
[2] see TNA: AIR 27/453 and AIR 27/147. The National Archives of the UK (TNA) © Crown Copyright
[3] TWEDDLE, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press, 2018, p 195
[4] YOUNG, Neil. The Role of the Bomber Command in the Battle of Britain. Imperial War Museum Review No. 06, 1991 (accessed December 2023)
[5] see TNA: AIR 27/894/2
[6] BOWMAN, Martin W. The BERLIN BLITZ by those who were there. Pen & Sword Books, 2022
[7] MIDDLEBROOKop. cit. p 79; WARD, Chris. 4 Group Bomber Command: An Operational
, 2012; DONELLY, Larry. The Other Few: The Contribution Made by Bomber and Coastal Aircrew to the Winning of the Battle of Britain. Red Kite/Air Research, 2004, p 128; TWEDDLEop. cit. pp 196-8
[8] DEMPS, Laurenz (Hrsg). Luftangriffe auf Berlin: Die Berichte der Hauptluftschutzstelle 1940-1945. Ch. Links Verlag, 2014, p 238
[9] see TNA: AIR 27/894/2
[10] ibid; SMITH, Steve. Before the Dawn No. 38 Squadron 1935-1940. Aviation Books Limited, 2023, p 200
[11] see TNA: AIR 27/887/22
[12] direct message with the author. [September 25, 2023]
[13] see TNA: AIR 27/397/21 and AIR 27/887/22; SMITHop. cit. p 200
[14] see TNA: AIR 27/453/2
[15] see TNA: AIR 27/686/18
[16] see TNA: AIR 27/453/2 and AIR 27/447/24
[17] Percival Knauth wireless to The New York Times, “RAF RAIDS BERLIN AND FRENCH COAST, Wednesday, September 4, 1940, page 4; TWEDDLEop. cit. pp 195-6
[18] see TNA: AIR 27/147/2 and AIR 27/141/26
[19] DONNELLYop. cit. p 128; CHORLEYWR. RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Volume 1 1939-40. Classic Publications, 2013, p 199; Middlebrook for his part doesn’t consider this crash as a “combat loss”, see 1988, p 79. For further info visit Aircraft Accidents In Yorkshire. Whitley P4967 at Nether Silton, Osmotherley (accessed December 2023)
[20] Piloted by W/Co Sydney Osborne Bufton, see Aircraft Accidents In Yorkshire. Whitley P4994 damaged by flak, returned to Leeming airfield (accessed December 2023)
[21] New York Post, “Arms Factory Is Target Of Raiders”, Wednesday, September 4, 1940, page 1
[22] The New York Times, “R.A.F. FIRES GERMAN FORESTS PLANS”, Thursday, September 5, 1940, page 1
[23] TWEDDLEop. cit. p 197. Tweddle incomprehensibly stated that “good, clear weather… and, for once, [the bombers] had no difficulty in locating the targets.”
[24] see TNA: AIR 27/141/26 and AIR 27/141/26
[25] DONNELLYop. cit. p 128; AIRMINDED, Wednesday, 4 September 1940 (accessed December 2023)


  • BRITISH BOMBING SURVEY UNIT. The Strategic Air War Against Germany 1939 - 1945 - The Official Report of the British Bombing Survey Unit. Frank Cass, 1998.
  • Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin, 1949.
  • 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. 5 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2007.
  • Ward, Chris and Smith, Steve. 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Pen & Sword Books, 2009.
  • Williston, Floyd. Through Footless Halls of Air: The Stories of a Few of the Many who Failed to ReturnGSPH, 1996.

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