The Offensive starts

During the Battle of Britain in the Summer of 1940, Germany bombed British Royal Air Force (RAF) bases and their personnel in order to annihilate Britain’s air defences. Suddenly, on the night of August 24th, some Luftwaffe bombers drop, probably by mistake, some bombs over the City of London. This was probably not intentional, as it was in defiance of Hitler’s strict instructions that central London should not be attacked.

Next day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an action to revenge the honor of the British citizens, who in case of a German raid on London, have warned the RAF to had the capability to reply immediately against Berlin.

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.” [Churchill, Their Finest Hour, 1949.]

[A view of London with St Paul’s Cathedral engulfed in flames in the aftermath of a Luftwaffe raid, December 1940.]

[Photo: LIFE.]

On the very next night, 25/26 August 1940, Bomber Command (the bombing arm of the RAF) sent 82 medium bombers, a raid force comprising Wellingtons (Nos 99, 149 Squadrons), Hampdens (Nos 44, 49, 50, 61, 144 Sqn) and Whitleys (Nos 51, 78 Sqn) -other sources says about 95, an unusually large figure for this stage of the war, the Command’s records on this night are not clear on the numbers dispatched- from its squadrons to attack Berlin as a retaliation. Main targets were Tempelhof Airport (coded as H324) near the centre of the capital and Siemensstadt (a huge factory complex) in the northwest part of the city. The raiders were greeted by searchlights and intense FlaK anti-aircraft fire, and actually just 26 of them managed to reach the city and drop their bombs on the capital because of thick cloud, and while the damage was slight, the psychological effect on Hitler and the Berliners was greater.

Ten Hampdens managed to bomb the Klingenberg power station (B57). One crew bombed the Henschel airframe factory claiming direct hits. Flt Sgt Clayton of No 44 Sqn failed to locate his target due to haze and clouds, but released his load of four 500-lb bombs on a large building at Johannistal, with devastating effect.

The flight involved a round trip of eight hours and 1,200 miles and the RAF lost 6 airplanes, including three which ditched in the North Sea.

[One of the Hampden medium bombers lost on the night of 25/26 August 1940 during the first bombing of Berlin by British RAF aircraft was P2070VN-X’ from No 50 Squadron, seen here after forced landing. They took off from RAF Lindholme at 21.58 hrs and after bombing Berlin it is believed that had to force landing due to fuel out near Lautersheim, Germany.]

[Photo: aircrewremembered.com]

Two days after the RAF once again appeared over the capital. The German bombings had turned back against Berlin.

The bombing raid on Berlin prompted Hitler to order the shift of the Luftwaffe target from British airfields and air defences to British cities, at a time during the Battle of Britain when the British were critically close to collapse. It has been argued that this action may actually have saved Britain from defeat.

[Winston Churchill inspecting a Vickers Wellington Mark II bomber and its crew during a visit to an RAF bomber station, 6 June 1941]. 

[Photo: War Office official photographer Horton (Capt). Imperial War Museum.]

[German Feuerlöspolizei the day after in Berlin at Wasserthorstraße 37. Damage was not great but the raid had a significant impact.]

[Photo: Bundesarchiv / Bild 183-L08580.]

This first air alarm had an official German reaction surprisingly muted, the event warranted only six lines in the newspapers the next morning. There were no casualties reported -just 2 people resulted injured- and it was asserted that no bombs had been dropped on the city itself and the report concluded that the raid was “extremely small”. Damage of this attack was estimated at a mere 3,000 Reichmarks, but to Berlin morale was a terrible blow. 

As many bomb fall on farms placed around the city, Berliners sense of humor came to rescue with this joke: ‘Now they’re trying to starve us out’.

[Frontpage of the The New York Times newspaper the following morning. The British were very optimistic about the bombing: Berlin suffered minor damage actually, but was a warning of what will comes].

[Photo: Alamy.com]

[Monday August 26th, 1940, Daily Mirror frontpage after the British raided Berlin the night before. Also covers the Luftwaffe bombings on London the South East, the first air bombings on both cities. “While Hitler’s bombers were making another raid on the London area early today, R.A.F. bombs shook Berlin.”. Poor bombing accuracy was admitted even by British press: “Listeners in the centre of the city estimated that the bombs were falling about twenty miles away.” ]

[Photo: John Frost Newspapers / Alamy.]



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Sources and Bibliography:

  • Aircrewremembered. 25/26.08.1940 No. 50 Squadron Hampden I P2070 VN-X P/O. Robert D. Wawn. <http://aircrewremembered.com/wawn-robert.html>
  • Bowman, Martin. Bomber Command Reflections of war. Volume I: Cover of darkness 1939-May 1942. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2011.
  • Bowman, Martin. Voices in flight: The Wellington Bomber. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
  • Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour. Houghton Mifflin. 1949.
  • Donnelly, 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.
  • Hill, Colin. THE LAST FLIGHT OF AD730 Hampden Bomber of No. 50 Squadron RAF.  Background to the Hampden and its Crew <http://www.ww2irishaviation.com/gravescj /chapter_2.html>
  • Middlebrook, Martin. The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2014.
  • Moorhouse, Roger. Berlin at war. Life and death in Hitler’s capital, 1939-45. Vintage Books, London. 2011.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • Smith Richard & Creek Eddie. Kampfflieger. Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Two July 1940 - December 1941. Classic Publications. 2004.
  • Tress HB. Churchill, the First Berlin Raids, and the Blitz: A New Interpretation. Militaergeschichtliche Zeitschrift, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 65–78. 1982.
  • Tweddle, Paul. The Other Battle of Britain: 1940: Bomber Command’s Forgotten Summer. The History Press. 2018.
  • Using Format